Tuesday, February 12, 2013

5 tips to better manage your multiple software solutions

In the business world, it is rare to find an enterprise that has a single software solution that meets all its needs. Generally, the businesses, especially the small businesses, will have a multitude of software solutions that, put together, meet the majority of the business' needs. But at the same time, some of these software will have functionalities that will intersect between one another. The superfluous caused by this redundancy is far from ideal but, if well managed, can be more than acceptable.

Here are 5 tips to help you better manage this situation:

1 - Don't get tempted by the superfluous

If you're like me, you probably constantly want to maximize your assets (especially where technology is concerned). If I buy a smartphone for instance, I want to try all the different functions and applications to see if any will apply to me and help me in my day-to-day. Although I take a certain pleasure in the process, its often a waste of time.

If we have to look at the different applications to see what we need, we're more than likely doing the job upside down. Its far preferable to determine what we need or what our business is missing and then to look in the software world to see if something out there can help us fill that void.

So unless you have a precise need, let your unused software functionalities on the side and don't mind the fact that you're not using the full power of your software. Doing so will not necessarily give you a better return on investment.

2 - Choosing ONE software for each activity

If many of your software intersect on a functionality stand point, its important to choose only one of them. For instance, imagine that you use a shared network drive to manage your documents. If one day  you decide to use another file sharing system such as Google Drive you'll find yourself with files staggered in 2 different places. It'll be complicated to know which documents belong in which filing system and, if some of the documents are shared in both locations, which one holds the latest version.

If you decide to switch software for a specific functionality  make sure to migrate all at once so you don't find yourself managing parallel redundant software.

3 - Synchronize software when necessary

In some situations, you'll find that your software intersect for certain functionalities but that they both absolutely need it. Take for example business contacts. Its very probable that your accounting software needs your client contacts. On the other hand its also possible that your CRM (or marketing software) also requires contact information.

In these circumstances, its practical to find or to build synchronization bridges that allow both software to have the necessary information. If I create, modify or delete a contact in one of the systems, it should be reflected in the other. The bridges can even have business logic stored so that not all data get synchronized between the systems (not all contacts necessarily appear in both systems).

Its important to automate the synchronization process. Otherwise, even with the best intentions, we'll find ourselves with different systems having different sets of data. Making sense of it all can be quite troublesome.

4 - Don't synchronize unless necessary

This might seem obvious but I care to mention it anyway. Too often do I see people trying to make every piece of software in sync even if some of the synchronization could well be avoided.

For example, if you bought another software (than the ones mentioned in the point above) that also has a contact module, validate if you need to synchronize it. Does this functionality have an added value? Is it required for this software? Is it possible that you don't require the part of the software that uses the contact module? Is this already managed in another one of your software? Is it worth synchronizing for the gain that the contact module will bring you?

Its important to limit the number of software that we need to keep synced. More often than not, you'll find that it can be quite expensive for the return we might get.

5 - Accepting the status quo

With all the different software and applications coming out, we are often tempted to look how we could improve our situation. Its definitely important to keep informed (don't get me wrong). But its also important to take the time to correctly analyze the situation before making a drastic change. If the software will revolutionize and improve your work method, great. On the other hand, if it'll only change one or two minor aspects of your business, you must ask yourself the question if its worth the change. A business software change can be a major decision.

Even though I specialize in the software creation domain, I never want to force a client to build a software solution if I don't think he'll see a significant return on investment in the long run. Part of my job is to give recommendations on if, when, how and why make the move.

Most businesses work with a multitude of tools and software solutions. The trick is to give and take. Knowing how to isolate our needs, to limit our software use to the pertinent and required functionalities and to make sure that our software are synchronized when needed is key to working in a well managed software-driven business environment.

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