Don’t be a Business Software Zombie

Your accounting staff has turned into zombies, your IT department is fending them off with torches, and your CFO is gnawing on your shinbone. All because you tried to pick a new software package for your company.

Choosing business software is daunting. You want to involve everyone and make a thorough decision, but the process can turn people into zombies. Becoming a software zombie can happen to anyone when you use an overly detailed process, you look at too many software packages, and you sit through too many all day demos.

Here’s how to avoid zombification and make a good decision about buying software:

  1. Use Your Brain While You Still Have It – You haven’t been zombified yet, so for now you still have a brain. Use it to create your own high level requirements. I’ve seen people do some very good five page documents that detail their software needs and provide enough information for vendors to do demos. Avoid “unbiased” zombie consultants who will create enormous RFP documents from a template. These templates contains “needs” that aren’t really your “needs”. Because you aren’t sure if you will ever have those “needs”, you leave them in the document which just ends up obscuring your actual “needs”.
  2. Use a Non-Zombie Consultant – If you are going to use a consultant, make sure you use a non-zombie consultant. How can you tell? Their clothes won’t be tattered, they won’t try to eat your brain, and they will be unbiased. Or, at least they will lay their biases on the table. There are some good system selection consultants at companies that provide other IT services. Just make sure the system selection process isn’t simply a gateway to them selling you more services. If you are getting too good of a deal on the system selection project, that may be a sign that it’s a loss leader. Non-zombie consultants will really dig into your requirements and truly help you through the process without just pushing their solutions.
  3. Band Together – Surviving a zombie fate takes teamwork. The best source of information about possible business systems is other companies like yourself that you know and trust. Call up your friend Mel in Milwaukee (who I’m assuming isn’t a zombie) and ask him what he uses. If he likes it, see if you can do a site visit to take a look. There’s no substitute for an unbiased reference and site visit from an actual customer. Once you have a list of the main software products in your market, start your detailed research.
  4. Dig up Your Own Dirt – Do as much internet research as you can on the software companies. You can get an amazing amount of detailed information online, and with the proliferation of cloud based business applications, you can often log into a live demo. Compare the functionality to your high level needs, but also look for the non-functional requirements such as scalability, platform, integration, and customization capabilities.
  5. Zombies Relationships – Zombies aren’t good at relationships, so they tend to focus only on the miniscule details of software functionality. But buying business software is like entering into a long term relationship. You should research the financial state, experience, skills, future plans, and viability of the software companies and consultants you are considering. You should understand where their product is in its life cycle. You should understand how many customers they have and if they are growing or shrinking. Some of these items can be more important than whether the package has some very specific functionality.
  6. Avoid Demo Zombification – Most people think zombies are caused by a virus, but they are actually caused by multiple all day software demos. Don’t zombify your entire team with eight long demos. Schedule quick web demos for a select group of power users and managers to look at your long list of products to narrow them down. Compare those packages to your high level requirements and the feedback you received from others in your industry. Once you settle on a few choices, you can bring in the bigger groups.
  7. Make the Call – Choosing business software is more than just ranking a detailed list of features. That’s zombie behavior. You have to get feedback from users, and evaluate that along with the other bigger picture items. You have to balance IT concerns, user needs, and future plans. In the end there will most likely be a few viable packages, each with their pros and cons. You have to be willing to make the final call and defend that choice, but not without involving a lot of people first.

Heed my warning and use these steps to avoid a zombie apocalypse in your company. It’s not cool like Thriller where all the zombies dance in unison. It’s really just a lot of zombies moaning and pounding on your office door while you barricade yourself in with stacks of green bar paper. Not pretty.

6 thoughts on “Don’t be a Business Software Zombie”

  1. Finally getting through my google reader…Nice article. I would add that many software transitions fail because management fails to solicit feedback from the eventual end user when creating their needs assessment. I have seen it happen more than once. Thanks for the great blog.
    Scott Wagner

    1. Great point Scott, thanks. It’s always a challenge when looking for software to find something that will meet the needs of end users up to top executives and everyone in between. What you say is true, ignoring end users can cause major problems. Also, the opposite is true, going only on end user feedback and ignoring the needs and goals of top management and IT, can also cause problems. It’s tricky business trying to buy such complex software. Thanks for the comment.

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