After you have created your requirements document, you are now ready to research your software vendor options. Software selection is really a process of elimination as you start with a long list of software options and gradually eliminate inappropriate vendors to get to a short list of solutions that appear to be a good fit. Remember, there is no 100% perfect software solution for any company. The key is to get a vendor that handles your most important requirements.
Software Vendor Research Tip #1 – Create a Long List
Create an extensive Long List of software vendor options. If a software product is not on the Long List, it won’t get selected, no matter how good their fit to your company! Do internet searches, browse industry magazines, consider both large general vendors as well as smaller vertical market specific vendors. Sometimes, the smaller vendors offer superior functionality at a lower cost to the larger vendors you always hear about.
Software Vendor Research Tip #2 – Conduct Software Research
Perform thorough research on vendors using as many resources as possible including independent studies, articles, web sites, and consultants. Use the Differentiating Criteria (the 2-5 page key requirements document) to start to eliminate vendors. Begin by using a few high-level requirements. (For example, if you are looking for an Oracle based solution, all of those vendors that do not support that database can be eliminated).
If you are are required to go through a Request for Proposal process, you will send the RFP out to the vendors on your Long List. You will then have the opportunity to review the vendor’s responses to get to a Medium List of vendors to conduct vendor clarification calls.
Software Vendor Research Tip #3 – Vendor Clarification Calls
As you get to a Medium List of about 5-10 vendors, contact the vendors directly and hold in-depth phone interviews to discuss each point of the Differentiating Criteria requirements list. The idea is to understand not only IF the software may be a fit for your unique requirements, but HOW they would work for your company. Because every organization is unique, you can’t just rely on a database or an RFP response of yes/no answers. You need to actually talk with the vendor to understand how they would solve your business need.
Remember, you are not actually making a final decision at this point, you are just trying to get the list down to a short list of 3 vendors. You will get more information to select the final vendor later during the software vendor demos and final due diligence. The whole idea of software selection is to spend more and more time with fewer and fewer vendors until you get to the point that you can make a decision and spend the most time with the selected vendor to validate the final decision.
To illustrate how this works, we were working with a large international heavy equipment manufacturer. They had some very specific multi-national and multi-company requirements. We started with a long list of approximately 40 vendors. We were able to quickly eliminate 20 vendors because they could not handle the multi-national requirements. We were able to eliminate another 15 vendors due to the requirement to be able to plan manufacturing seamlessly across multiple companies. Although many vendors could plan across multiple companies, the way that this company handled that requirement was very complex. This got us to 5 vendors. We then had further in-depth discussions with these vendors and eliminated them down to a short list of 3 vendors who were brought in for demos.