The Spring Clean checklist

24 Nov 11

If you have a growing business, one of the most important characteristics of your IT business systems are their scalability and ability to grow along with your company.

Finding a system that can adapt to the specific needs of your company is essential. What if you need to automate new areas of the business in the future?

First off, look for a solution that offers open architecture, which allows you to easily add on additional features and adapt to new IT paradigms. Open architecture is especially important if you expect your company to experience growth or change in the future. Beware of ‘one size fits all’ solutions – if all functionality is included, then you are paying for everything, even the features that you do not need.

Here’s a few more tips to help you plan for a new business system:

Think forward to the next step

Most software companies have various families of products geared toward specific business sizes of customers. A key question to ask is whether or not the products are built on unified system architecture and if they have a built-in upgrade path from one product to the next. If the family of products has been developed on the same architecture, future upgrades from product to product and the subsequent data exchange can be managed much more smoothly. Ensure that as your company grows and you move up in the family of products that you will not need to retrain your users on a completely different workflow and user interface. The smart choice is a product that will fit your business requirements for at least the next seven to ten years.

Make integration a high priority

Connecting all functions and linking to customers, suppliers, and other business partners externally can dramatically reduce lead times and waste throughout your organisation. You’ll streamline operations and gain a competitive edge by integrating your accounting, business intelligence, customer relationship management, supply chain, and human resource management applications. When evaluating software, check to see how seamlessly they integrate or can be integrated with other systems. Tight integration will save you time, promote greater efficiencies, and add value to your business.

Integration is especially important for manufacturing and distribution companies. Inventory that sits in your warehouse is cash your business could otherwise be using. When considering solutions, study what options are available for warehouse management. The proper use of integration will pay your organisation huge dividends in the form of reduced inventory cycles, more efficient warehouse operations, less paperwork (including the reduction duplicate data entry), and better order accuracy.

Embrace industry standard technology

The evolution of technology is as certain as death and taxes! Hardware, databases, operating systems (OS), servers, and all IT infrastructures are ever-evolving. You can’t afford to be running your business on unsupported software. Ask the software vendor which databases it supports, along with which operating systems and server systems. Look for vendors that stay up to date with technology and frequently advance their technology.

On-demand or Cloud-based Deployment

With advances in Web technologies and growth in broadband access to the Internet, alternative deployment methods have emerged. Most evaluations of software will include the question of whether to implement the solution "on-premise” or in the cloud.  The relative advantage or disadvantage of one deployment type over others is dependent on your objectives and circumstances. The more important question is that of versatility and options. If you select a cloud-based solution do you have the option to move your data to on-premise in the future? And what is the cost? You don’t want to invest in a solution and not have the agility to adapt to the future.

Verify customisation capabilities

No one software package is right for everyone. And no solution on the market will have every single feature you require. Look for a solution providing modification features that allow you change or add new reports and tailor the interface to individual user preferences. For even more control over your system, review software that enables you to make more specific customisations. This will ensure that your software will meet your needs as requirements change in your business.

Understand the difference between standard functions and extras

Some organisations provide basic functions but then make you purchase the various extras that come standard in other software. An extreme example would be to buy a car, and then discover that you must pay additional for the engine, steering wheel, and tires. Confirm what is included in the core pricing and what must be purchased separately.

Evaluate the software by what it can’t do

Software product limitations are often much more revealing than feature list comparisons. Find out the maximum number of account types, customers, vendors, and inventory items allowed. Determine the maximum size of the document numbers, general ledger account numbers, and other key fields. Ask how many line items a single invoice or sales order can handle, and find out the maximum number of users that can work with a particular application at the same time. Is there a limitation on database size, or at what point is system performance impacted? These types of questions will uncover key points and help you make a more informed decision.

Test for common mistakes

People make mistakes. If the software handles errors intelligently, that’s a sign of good design and usability. Some of the most widely promoted solutions do not allow you to correct an error in a purchase order without canceling the entire order and reentering it from scratch. You should test for errors or ask for the vendor to demonstrate error management. Look at mistakes such as duplicate customers and vendors, incorrect item numbers, and unreasonable amounts and dates. The system should also flag unusually high quantities or unit prices, and offer valid alternatives. The system should prevent errors that cause data corruption, such as deleting a customer or general ledger account number. Understanding how the system handles mistakes will help you determine if your data integrity is at risk.

Evaluate the learning curve

Intelligently designed software is easy to learn and use. Common tasks should be intuitive and quickly executed. An insightful interface will shorten training times and facilitate adoption of the new system. Look for information in consistent and expected locations and screen design similarities among all modules. Be sure that the software comes with effective training!

Ask what learning tools, classes, online, anytime, and demonstrations are available to speed the learning process and to get you on your way for a prosperous 2012 and beyond.

Mike Lorge is managing director for Sage Business Solutions. Go here for more.

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