This article was originally published in the Colorado Real Estate Journal, August 5th, 2009.
The right tools will always do the job best.
You could cut your lawn with a scissors, but of course, a lawn mower is the proper tool and will provide better results. We often think of tools as machines or equipment, but the right software can also be a valuable tool.
On the contrary, the wrong software can be a costly mistake that will make your situation worse. Software products are so complex that many people find it difficult to know what they need or even what questions to ask. With so many software applications available, how do you know which software will be the right fit for your company?
The Needs Assessment
Knowing what you need begins with defining what you have. A needs assessment starts by creating process maps to break down tasks into operation steps or sub routines.
List each step and connect the dots from start to finish for each task you want the software to enhance.
Ask yourself “why” and “what-if” questions to be sure the process map is a complete diagram of the task.
Using the process map, define the parameters of what you need the software to do and what you would like the software to do.
During the entire process, strive to be as detailed as possible and keep an open mind. Sometimes you are so involved with a process or have been doing it for many years that it’s difficult to analyze it and see what needs to be done to improve it.
There are many consulting companies that can assist you with creating process maps and defining your needs. A consultant will have a fresh look at your processes and be able to identify issues, redundancies, or dead-ends that you may no longer notice.
Software-specific consultants can design processes that take advantage of platform capabilities and can steer you away from process steps that are functionally inefficient.
Finding the right software
So, you finished the needs assessment with the process map and requirements for a software solution. Now what? How do you take that and overlay that on to a piece of software?
Recently I was talking to a company that wanted to hire a consultant to assess their needs and demo all of the relevant software products. While this sounds great, I am not aware of anyone that provides this service because no one has used all of the IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management Solution) products well enough to confidently present their pros and cons.
A more realistic approach is to take your needs assessment results and ask the software companies to demonstrate their software using actual examples from your processes. The right software will be able to replicate your process map while implementing improvements, without making your process unrecognizable or forcing awkward changes in flow.
Look at both custom and fixed applications when searching for a software solution. Fixed applications include a predetermined process flow, which may or may not work for your company. Fixed systems can be difficult or impossible to adjust to your process. Your process mapping will let you know which fixed systems coordinate with your process and which ones do not.
Custom software applications flex and bend to the specific needs of your company and will integrate well with other systems in your organization, such as IT or HR. Custom software also can be as affordable and implemented as quickly as fixed software.
With all the IWMS software options available, your needs analysis is the only tool that can identify the software that will be the greatest asset to your company.
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