Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Overkill Software can be harmful to your business

When shopping for a product, everyone wants more for his money. Whether for a car, perfume, meal, we love to have those little extras or side orders offered with the price of our purchase. Even though this is normal behaviour, we need to be careful when purchasing software solutions that offer more and more functionalities.

I'll try to explain what I mean by overkill software by a concrete example. Imagine you're starting a new company and need a software solution to manage your clients. You need the software for the following:
  • Keep clients contact information
  • Enter notes for every follow-up with a client
  • Enter important dates and have the software remind you of those dates as they approach.
Now, if you ask around, we'll probably recommend you look into CRM solutions (Customer Relationship Management). A CRM will indeed probably meed your needs but will also meet a huge amount of functionnalities you don't necessarily need: 
  • Client Status Management
  • Order Management
  • Ticket Support Management
  • Marketing campaign Management
  • Mass Mailing Management
  • Service Contract Management
  • Document Management
  • Product Management
In fact, depending on the CRM solutions you investigate, some will offer a few less and many a lot more than the functionalities previously listed.  What I call an overkill software is one that meets your direct needs but a whole mess of other functionalities you don't need and may never will need.

Its important to understand why so many software are made with so many functionalities.  Its quite simple: providers want to reach as large a part of the market as possible.  The way to do so is to make a solution that covers as many functionalities as possible. If the providers were to develop a solution that meets only your specific needs, they probably wouldn't be able to sell it to as many clients. On the other hand, the fact that the software is sold to many clients often makes it cheaper.

How can it be harmful to have too many functionalities?

1- Quantity / Quality / Price ratio

The fact that solutions with more functionalities costs the same as solutions with less functionalities does not necessarily mean that you have less quality (it also depends on the number of clients, market, business model, etc.) but it can be an indicator.  Keep in mind what you're looking for and not necessarily the bells and whistle that come with it.

2- Reduces the business flexibility

The more functionalities a software has, the more its aimed context is precise. In other words, you will need to operate in the manner dictated by the software rather than what might feel more natural to you. A software solution should not reduce your flexibility or force your operations but rather follow your methodology and evolve with your business.

3- Gives you the impression you're not maximizing your software

We better understand this point once we've lived it.  If you've ever used a software that had a gazillion functionalities but that you only used 3 or 4, you probably felt that you were missing something. You'll question yourself on your method and processes to know if you should be using these other functionalities. To question your processes is far from being bad but to change your processes to fit in the mold of the software is.

4- The complexity of the installation and configuration of the software

Putting in place and configuring a complex software solution can be a hassle especially if you use only a part of the software and want to deactivate the unused portions of the software. Not mentionning that its often not possible to deactivate some portions of the software when they are too closely linked to the core functionalities.

5- Having similar functionalities across different software solutions

This is one of the most common problems in the software world. How many software solutions do you use that take in account the notion of  "Client"? Your accounting software? Your Excel sheets? Your CRM? Your address book?  The "Client" is the most common entity defined across business software solutions. If you have many software solutions that have a mention of "Client" than you probably have redundant information in your business.  This redundant info needs to be synchronized from one software to the next.

So the more functionalities a software has, the bigger the chances are that it will overlap your existing software solutions.

6- Limited ergonomics for a limited use

In my opinion, this is the biggest flaw of overkill software solutions. You'll notice that in general the smaller the software solution, the better the ergonomics of that solution is. This can be easily explained by the fact that you have less variables and processes to take in account and help make friendlier applications.

In some software solutions, we'll give you the possibility to deactivate some of the functionalities you do not use. Although this does reduce the complexity of the software, the fact remains that the parts that are active were made to interact with the deactivated functionalities. The result is often a less ergonomic solution than if the active functionality had been designed by itself.

My best advice is to take a deep breath before buying an overkill software solution simply because it offers more options than the next.  The fact that it has more functionalities does not necessarily make it better nor does it guarantee that it will better fit your needs.

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