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Some products get easier to use if they are used more frequently or over a long period. The issue of scripting vs GUI overlaps with this point but assessing whether greater productivity can be achieved over time is an important consideration. Software that is ‘clunky’ tends to be just as slow to use with repeated use – expertise in the software does not pay back much. Scripting languages and more flexible GUI software packages tend to give more pay back as users find ‘tricks’ to improve productivity. Again, this is hard to assess, but is worth asking software suppliers before you buy.
There are then some ‘softer’ things that can make a whole lot of difference to your productivity and the value you will get from the software product.
Regardless of whether you are talking about market research software, any other software or any form of customer service, some companies provide good a support service and some are impossible to reach. You can get some measure of this during software trials, but software companies may just be more responsive during trials as they see it as part of the sales process. Asking what is offered in terms of response times and availability at least means you have a commitment from any potential supplier and is always recommended.
Support materials are important. There is little excuse for software companies that don’t have videos or tutorials to deal with onboarding and learning how to do all common tasks. I would add to this, where relevant, free project advice so that complex or unusual projects are handled in the best way. Too often, software users can struggle in ignorance when there are alternative approaches which are better suited to the software product you are using.
This comes back to my opening comment in this blog article, to a great extent. Some software suppliers will take any customers, but I think it was worthwhile trying to find out if you are a good fit in terms of the type of customer that uses a supplier’s product. That’s hard to do, of course, but telling a supplier about your ambitions will draw a response from a software supplier (or, they will ignore it and you can assume they are not a good fit). As a seller of software, I find it useful to understand what a potential client wants so that I can advise properly.
And, then, we come to the long term. Here’s two things to consider:
Long term productivity is important. I am aware that I keep mentioning productivity, but it is often neglected and not always given due consideration. Some software packages have short cuts and tricks gaining skills that can be acquired over time. Some software packages, on the other hand, have one way of doing things – they might do whatever it is efficiently of inefficiently, but there are no or few long-term gains. Again, it is worth exploring this with potential software suppliers.
Price and value are often confused. Both the short and long-term value of a software investment are important. I actually believe it is worth producing a spreadsheet before a software purchase that details the value of the business the software will be used for, how important it is to that business, what the staff costs are (if it is multiple grades of staff, how much will be spent on each grade), how much training is needed, what risk there is to the business if the software proves inadequate and the long-term productivity gains. Your figures will only be estimates, but might help to focus on the value of your purchase and whether you are making the right decision.
How you feel is important. Does the potential supplier talk your language? Do they work with companies like yours? Do they understand your needs? Are they people you can do business with? Some will say that this is the most important thing and they may be right in many cases, but I would advise not underestimate its importance.
So, that’s the end of this blog article. I have tried to be objective and will in a future blog article compare our products against my criteria. I hope you feel that I have been objective, but you are welcome to comment or challenge my opinions, of course. I can’t deny that I put a lot of emphasis on productivity and the software being the ‘right fit’. I’ve deliberately avoided naming any software package, including our own, but there are some market leaders, general purpose tools, some free tools that I genuinely believe are not good fits in some cases. Hopefully, this article sparks a discussion and some positive thoughts.