Why, When & How to Vet New Software for Your Firm
Choosing new software is a complex, yet necessary part of managing your firm. This is a topic that our team spends a lot of time working on and finding ways to make improvements. I recently had the opportunity to discuss best practices when vetting new applications with some experts in the field. The discussion revolved around the pain of making a firm-wide software change and what we have learned to help our teams have a more successful implementation.
We can all agree that change can be challenging and usually requires an investment of both time and money. So, how do you know when making a change is worth the trouble? Though it may seem easier to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, you may be missing out on tools that can make a big difference for your staff and clients. There are so many applications to choose from and many include extra features and options like workflow, resource allocation tracking, version control, reporting tools, and more.
Based on her experience, Tiffany Roussel, Business Application Manager at Honkamp Krueger, suggests that firms consider how they expect things to change over the course of time and plan for it. She said, “It is best to have a roadmap of what you think your solutions will look like over the next few years. It is important to understand how changes in your firm will impact the software that you need.”
Lacy Magby, Vice President of Sales at Conarc, has extensive experience in implementation and client services. She recommends, “Review your current software on an annual basis and make sure you are getting everything you can out of what you have. Find out if there are integrations that you are missing out on, too.” Roussel suggests developing a formal process to objectively score and rank the effectiveness of each solution that you use. You can then use that same process to evaluate new options. This data will also help you justify your current solutions if you get into a situation where management wants to cut expenses and sees a valuable piece of tech as too expensive or if a small group of users wants to make a change based on feelings rather than facts.
When is the best time to look for new business applications?
Roussel shares that firms should “always” be considering the pros and cons of current and prospective solutions. “A pain point usually triggers looking at new software, however, it should really be a constant. Be proactive instead of reactive. Always be shopping, take notes and meet as a team after your busy season. It is worth the time to debrief and talk about the good and bad. Each year we evaluate what we want to keep doing, stop doing and start doing.”
There are so many solutions out there with multiple options, different price points, bundles, packages, add-ons, etc. It can be easy to get distracted by bells and whistles. Roussel, says, “I am consistently educating myself on what options are out there. I suggest that you attend webinars, tech conferences, and network with peers in your industry. When you see something that might be a better option, schedule a demo. Check it out, see how it compares, see what options it has that you need or want. If it seems like it could be a good fit, analyze the ROI to see if it is more efficient and short-list it.”
Meredith Jolly, Conarc CEO, shares, “Many of our customers start looking for a new document management solution when they have had frustrations and pain. We can help in that situation, but we find that clients who have a proactive initiative to find a new solution tend to have a better experience and realize the benefits more quickly. Typically, they have already reviewed the pros and cons of their current solution, have identified what they are missing and have a budget in mind.”
How do we choose the right solution and plan for a smooth implementation?
When you have decided it is time to take a closer look at new solutions, leverage your team to help collect data and feedback on how a solution does or does not fit your business practices. Bring in your biggest naysayer to help you vet your options because their skepticism will offer a different perspective. Also, consider having some people who aren't the most tech-savvy on your team to test prospective solutions for you. If they find it easy and feasible to use, that will help get others on board. Map out at least a couple of processes and run timed tests. If the data supports your argument, then do a pilot test with various levels of staff involved to be sure you have a good group sample.
You should also ask the vendor if they have other companies that are similar in type, size, geographic location, etc. to get references. Reach out and ask them what worked and didn't work for them. Ask those references to tell you about their implementation and what they'd do differently, so you can learn from their experiences. You should also talk with your vendor about best practices and make sure you understand the technical requirements needed to effectively use the software you choose, to have an accurate budget and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Once you have decided on what to change, new software implementation needs strong support from the top. Consistent messaging to employees will help people get used to the idea, understand why a change is in the works and get them mentally prepared. After leading countless implementations, Magby says, “Lay the groundwork for a smooth transition early in the process. Good communication and buy-in from the top down will lead to a better experience for everyone.” Roussel adds, “Get involvement from all staff members. Most people want to be included so they feel like they are a part of the decision-making process rather than being told what will change or what will happen.”
Finally, choose a vendor who will act as your tech partner and is willing to establish an ongoing relationship that doesn’t end with the sale. Roussel adds, “Work with a vendor who has an implementation person that stays with you and checks in after you are up and running. Talk with them periodically to review your challenges and successes.” Magby also suggests that you set-up calendar reminders to have follow-up discussions a few months down the road to make sure you are fully utilizing the product that you are paying for. Don’t be afraid to ask your vendor for their expert advice and utilize the training resources that they offer to be sure your decision continues to be the right one for you. When you continue to assess and review on an annual basis, you’ll always know when it is time to make a change.