Software Selection Best Practice – Stick with the Process

We have been doing software selections for over 22 years at SoftResources, and have found that one of the most important success factors in any selection is to stay with the process. It is tempting to want to change things mid-stream, for example add or subtract requirements, change requirement importance, make last minute adjustments to demonstration scripts, or to add or subtract entire modules on the fly. All of the above is especially true in a formal RFP situation.

When you make such changes, the entire selection (and future implementation) can be put at risk. For example, when you issue a selection or formal RFP, vendors evaluate whether they are a good fit or not for the project. Once they submit responses and/or provide onsite demos, they feel they have a good chance at getting your business and have invested significant time and resources to the pursuit. If you change the requirements on them, it’s like changing the rules of a game mid-stream and you quite possibly could be not only wasting your time but theirs as well. Deviating from the process also may lead to snowballing. You’ve already made changes, so what’s the harm in more?!

If we were managing your selection, your team will have spent a significant amount of time developing the requirements, RFP, etc. Making changes to those, or other pitfalls such as changing demo scripts late in the schedule, will create confusion for both the vendor and your team. What is important? What is in or out of scope? This can affect the consistency of demo scoring, and often can be reflected in lowered team morale as well.

This is not to say that you cannot make ANY changes to a selection once it’s started, just to be judicious and keep them to an absolute minimum. With each change, the risk of selection and/or implementation problems tend to exponentiate.

Take the time to plan your selection, and then resist “mission creep” or the allure of “putting more items on the table for negotiation”. Trust your process and planning to take you across the finish line!

 

 

 

 

Cloud Confusion – Part Two

In Part One we defined and described three different kinds of software as a service cloud deployments – Single-Tenant SaaS, Multi-Tenant SaaS, and Hybrid SaaS. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

With Single-Tenant SaaS, the main advantage is that you retain the most granular control of your implementation. The main advantages are as follows:

  • Normally you retain control of the upgrade process, meaning no surprises or disruption to your business operations.
  • It is possible for you to build and maintain custom coding specific to your implementation.
  • You have complete control over your data, as it is maintained on a single server dedicated to you.

 

The disadvantages are primarily that it is more work to have to think about, and possibly perform the upgrades yourself. Custom coding also requires maintenance, and may break with a software upgrade. Single-Tenant SaaS is typically written on older, legacy code that is ported to web applications, and may not be as efficient as new code bases.

Multi-Tenant SaaS is where we see the bulk of new enterprise software development taking place. It’s primary advantage is convenience.

  • It scales very easily, as you are sharing your implementation with many others spread out over multiple servers.
  • The maintenance and support is provided by the vendor; very few internal IT resources are needed.
  • Upgrades are automatic and normally invisible to the client.

 

Although this is the direction that many vendors are going, it is not all roses with Multi-Tenant SaaS. Your data co-mingles with other clients, and is only separated by system permissions. You have no control and few change management options, as the updates are published and they are not optional. Since you are sharing the implementation with others, code customizations are not permitted; you will have less latitude in your business process/operational decisions.

As we’ve defined it here, Hybrid is typically somewhere in the middle of the two above models. We normally see this where a vendor is slowly moving between a traditional on-premise product and a multi-tenant web product, and not all modules have been written in the newer code yet. There are no real advantages to the model, as it is transitional in nature.

Cloud Confusion – Part One

Today, many enterprise software vendors offer some sort of cloud deployment for their applications. The most common two we encounter are either Single-Tenant (sometimes also known as Hosted) or Multi-Tenant Software as a Service, or SaaS for short. Since there are both advantages and drawbacks to both models, some vendors are now developing and deploying “Hybrid” SaaS solutions.

Single-Tenant SaaS is where the implementation is almost the exact same as if you had installed it on-premises (at your location), other than it is actually located at a 3rd Party data center. Once you purchase the software, the vendor installs a complete instance of it just for you. In effect, you are simply outsourcing your IT infrastructure and server support. Many, if not most legacy vendors offer this implementation model. Pricing options consist of either buying the software outright, or on pay-as-you-go (Subscription) basis.

With Multi-Tenant SaaS, the software is up and running already in a remote 3rd Party data center. No software is installed specifically for you, as your configuration and data are set up and separated only by permissions within an existing software instance. You are “sharing” your implementation with other organizations. Examples of vendors that use this deployment model are NetSuite and Workday. Pricing is typically Subscription only.

Hybrid SaaS can be defined here as a SaaS cloud deployment that mixes characteristics of both Single and Multi-Tenant models. For example, with Oracle Cloud applications, the some of the application is Multi-Tenant, while the database backend is segregated and installed separately for each customer. With some vendors, it may or may not be clearly defined as to what parts of the application you are actually sharing. Pricing is offered on a pay as you go basis.

In Cloud Confusion – Part Two we will discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of each deployment model.

A Few Thoughts on Contract Negotiation

We are near the end of the year and if you are like some of our clients, you may be negotiating a contract to take advantage of a year-end discount. These can be good discounts, but remember that this is a long term purchase, and it is more important to make sure that you have a fair contract for the life of the software rather than saving a few dollars in the short run. The following are some key things to consider as you negotiate software contracts:

1. While it is important to get the year end discounts, it is more important to get the right contract signed, so don’t rush the negotiation just to get a small discount.

2. Make sure that you take a hard look at the Terms and Conditions of the contract. The software vendors write contracts to protect their interests – you need to negotiate to protect your interests.

3. Consider engaging a consultant or attorney that is experienced in contract negotiation for software contracts reviews the contract. They can help you identify the areas that should be negotiated in a software contract.

While price negotiation is important, we find that Terms and Conditions negotiation can have as big an impact on the price that you pay for the software. For example, you may be able to negotiate delayed payment of the software until the system is live. Or you may be able to negotiate a longer term discounted license fee for cloud solutions. There are many different ways that Terms and Conditions negotiations can save significant money over the long run, while at the same time provide protection to your organization.

The Mission Critical Implementation Statement of Work

After a short-listed vendor is chosen, the next step in the selection process is contract negotiation. Within these negotiations is when the Statement of Work (SOW) is developed. A well designed SOW is absolutely essential to ensure a successful solution implementation, and will make it clear to everyone the work that is to be completed.

At a high level, an Implementation Statement of Work defines the following:

  • What work will be done
  • What work is to be specifically excluded
  • Who is performing the work
  • How much it will cost
  • Project timelines
  • Change control procedures
  • Assumptions
  • Remedies

 

Remember that vendors write contracts, including SOW’s, to protect their interests – not yours. While it is important to have the agreement reviewed by your attorneys, you should also have selection project team members go through the SOW line by line to look for any red flags. When we are reviewing SOW’s, we typically find around 50 changes that need to be made on behalf of the client. It is also not unusual to find errors, as vendors will use “boiler plate” agreements that may have been changed many times by various clients over the years. Lastly, the SOW should always be negotiated and agreed to BEFORE the final contract is signed, in order to maintain leverage.

A well thought out and negotiated Statement of Work will protect your interests, clearly communicate expectations from both client and vendor perspectives, and minimize conflicts that may arise during a complex implementation.

Cloud Management Solutions

As Cloud software solutions continue to gain acceptance and market share, corporate Information Technology (IT) teams are being tasked with utilizing Cloud solutions to provide greater IT infrastructure flexibility, while at the same time reducing costs and decreasing the time to provision new solutions. Cloud Management Platform (CMP) software systems have been created to manage both public and private Cloud platforms, increasing IT efficiency in the organization.  CMP’s not only help technology teams; they can also offer end users some degree of self service provisioning via service catalogs. Another feature found in many, if not most CMP’s is the ability to provide configurable billing and charge back service metrics.

 

There are two general categories of CMP applications: 1) those that were originally designed for management of software development using public cloud resources, and 2) those that were originally developed to manage internal infrastructure for private clouds. CMP vendors from both sides have now developed new functionality to cross over and manage both scenarios in hybrid cloud environments.

 

The CMP software market is currently in a state of significant flux. There are many small vendors building CMP platforms that are trying to grow market share. Larger vendors such as Cisco, IBM, Red Hat, and VMware have been purchasing many of these smaller vendors to quickly add hybrid cloud management capability to their application portfolios. At the same time, another large vendor (Citrix) has recently announced that it is divesting from the CMP market by selling their Cloud Portal Business Manager product. This all adds up to an unstable CMP vendor market landscape.

 

If you are an IT professional looking for ways to streamline your Cloud management environments, or maybe a CFO or Finance Director struggling with Cloud cost allocations, perhaps a Cloud Management Platform is just what you’re looking for!

Software Selection and Organizational Change

One often overlooked factor in any successful software selection and implementation is organizational change. Is my organization ready, willing, and able to undertake this project?

If it were my project, this would be one of the first questions that I would ask myself. Do not underestimate the impact of this impending change in preparing for your software selection. Remember, hundreds to thousands of people’s daily work will be impacted with a new enterprise system. Understanding and preparing for the organizational change the project will bring will help to ensure a successful selection as well as implementation.

Key Considerations:

Senior Executive Sponsorship – This is absolutely critical to the project. There will be significant strategy decisions, disagreements, and competing time commitments that will need to be prioritized. You’ll need someone who can make decisions with authority, and help to rally the troops.

Change Management – What other projects are concurrently running? Does the project run into your busy season? You need to have the team’s mind share, and keep key stakeholders fully engaged throughout the process. Make sure that you consider workloads for all parties involved, and balance them accordingly.

Awareness Programs – Are all of the users and stakeholders aware of the project? It is your job, as the project leader/sponsor, to ensure that they are. While email blasts are OK, it is better to include other mediums of communication, like intranet site postings, flyers/tent cards, or better yet events like lunchtime brown bag discussions or even ice cream socials (really!). Try to keep it light, fun, and informational. Explain what the current situation is, what you want to do, and why. Expect both questions and feedback.

Be Prepared for Unhappy or Nervous Employees – I know, you’re thinking “we really need a new solution, as this one is old, slow, and no longer meets our needs”. While awareness programs will hopefully get people excited about a new system, it is likely that some will become apprehensive and/or nervous. Some common complaints heard include:
• “But the old system is fine.”
• “The last time we rolled out a new system, it was a disaster.”
• “The new system will save time and effort, but do I have to worry about my job now?”
• “I don’t want to take the time to learn new software.”
• “Will I lose control?”

 
It’s important to get people involved, ensure that their input is heard, and make sure that they stay engaged throughout the selection process. In this way, they will have some level of ownership in the process, and will be more likely to be a positive influence during the implementation phase of the project. Sometimes, even squeaky wheels can become fervent project champions!

Implementation Thoughts – Data Migration

Ok, you’ve done your homework, gone through the software selection process, and selected the system that is right for you. Now the software contract negotiation phase begins, and one of the things you’ll need to review is the statement of work. One very important part of this is data migration. What, and how much data should I bring over to the new system? This should be spelled out in detail so all parties have the same expectations. Here are some factors to consider when making data migration decisions.

 

System History:
How long has the current application been in service? If you have the institutional knowledge, try to find out how that implementation went. Have there been any events that could have compromised your data, i.e. system mergers, the importing of large data sets, large operational changes, or anything else that may have had an adverse effect on your data’s quality? These factors can help you to determine a “data cutoff” date based on evolving business practices that made earlier data inaccurate or even just less valuable.

 
Existing Data Quality:
Remember the old adage; garbage in, garbage out? Well, that is especially true here. It is critical that your new system be implemented with good data. Whatever data you choose to bring over will probably require an extensive clean-up process. This is also a good time to perform simple maintenance on the data; for example, do you really need to bring over the 10,000 inactive vendors that you have not done business with for over 5 years?

 
Costs:
In general, the more data that you want to bring over, the more it will cost. There is a good chance that the data structures are different between the old and new applications. Data migration requires lots of planning, extensive field mapping, testing, etc. This all can escalate the implementation costs quickly.

 
Compliance/Legal Requirements:
This varies greatly based on domicile. Check with your legal team to reconcile what kind of data you are bringing over vs. how long you might want to or need to keep it. Keep in mind that there may be instances in which you choose specifically NOT to keep certain data.

 
Operational Needs:
With financials, you may choose to bring over only recent summary data into the new application, while keeping summary data in a data warehouse. For CRM applications, it is usually preferable to bring over as much clean and accurate historical data as possible.

 
Speed of Implementation:
The more data you choose to migrate equates to more time and effort to complete the implementation.

 

Remember that not all data is worth keeping, and the decision to migrate data you do want to keep involves performing a cost/benefit analysis to ensure that it is worth the effort.

What to Look for in a Software Selection Consultancy?

What to Look for in a Software Selection Consultancy?

 

This question comes up quite often when we are speaking with potential clients. “Why should we make SoftResources our partner in this project?” There are many reasons; however here are three key things that set us apart: Focus, Independence, and Experience.

 
Focus: Our Software Consulting Practice is limited to six main service areas that all revolve around software and system evaluations, selections, and implementations. We do not sell software, nor do we offer services outside of the above areas. This gives us great focus, and we are confident that no one is better at providing these services than we are.

 
Independence: We started out as part of a large accounting firm over 20 years ago. While this gave us instant name recognition, we felt that in order to offer the most objective service with the greatest value to our clients, we should be completely impartial and independent. We accept no compensation in any form from software vendors, we do not sell software, nor do we have any related businesses or practice areas that do so. Our only motivation is to find the best software and system possible for our clients.

 

Experience: Our consultants all have a minimum of 14 years of related industry experience, so you can be sure that you’ll be in good hands. Rather than turning over important portions of work to inexperienced junior employees, you’ll have senior consultants managing every portion of your project!

Taking the Time to Do it Right

It’s that time of year again.

Every fall, we have clients that want to push a project through before the end of the year. Maybe some extra budget was found somewhere, or perhaps a last minute project needed to get slotted in before 12/31. No matter what the reason, make sure that you have enough time to complete the project successfully!

When considering enterprise software selections and implementations, giving yourself a reasonable amount of time to reach your milestones as well as project completion is often a secondary consideration. Projects can usually be compressed to an extent, but remember that project risk begins to rise rapidly the more timelines shrink.

SoftResources can help with this, bringing our proven selection processes and project management skills to bear, however we often find that we can move much more quickly than our clients. If you find yourself under pressure to complete a software selection and implementation project quickly, we can assist in setting the proper expectations to help your upper management team make informed decisions. Nobody wants surprises!

Some things to remember:

  • Project time compression = increased risks
  • Ensure that you have appropriate resources available
  • Those resources must have the bandwidth to fully contribute
  • Don’t forget the holiday season and vacations
  • Consider reducing the scale of the project, and/or breaking it into phases
  • Software vendors are very busy, and scheduling demos can be challenging
  • Exercise proper Change Management – you may not be the only one in your organization with last minute projects!

 

Not taking the time to do it right opens the doors to enormous operational risk. At the end of the day, you want a successful software selection and implementation. Taking the time to do it right is absolutely critical!