An Introduction to Software Selection

Executive Summary

  • This article provides an introduction to software selection.
  • Software selection is rarely written about and the information that is available generally horrid.

Introduction

In this article, the primary explanation of software selection is explored.

Software Selection as a Form of Forecasting

Software selection is a form of forecasting, just as any other purchase decision is a forecast of how successfully the purchased item will meet expectations. Forecasting is necessary because it is not feasible to implement each application under consideration before it is purchased to see how it works in the business. A forecast requires sampling and the participants assume that the sample they take will be representative of how the software will perform when purchased. Everything from the software vendors’ explanations regarding how their software works, to the review of reports by IT analysts, to the software demonstrations, are all a form of sampling. Software selection is much more involved than other types of purchasing decisions because software—and enterprise software in particular—is complex. The software selection decision is not based solely upon the actual application, but also upon factors such as the pre-existing relationship between the buyer and the vendors, the availability of consultants trained in the software, and how the software will interact with other software currently installed and software the buyer plans to purchase in the future.

In my experience, the way in which most software selections are performed is a poor fit with this complexity because those with the domain expertise are often left out of the selection process. The involvement of the end user of the software is also an issue. In the consumer product purchasing process, the person who is going to use the product is involved directly in the decision to buy the product. In the corporate world, this is not the case, and a small group of people, who will not use the product or service make the purchase for the many people who will. If you work for a corporation and were provided with a laptop you don’t like and would never buy in a million years, this is a good example of the conflicts and inefficiencies that arise when the purchaser and the consumer are two different individuals. There is simply no getting around the fact that we buy differently when we are the ones who will use the product versus when someone else is going to use the product.

A Poor Fit with Complexity

In my experience, the way in which most software selections are performed is a poor fit with this complexity because those with the domain expertise are often left out of the selection process. The involvement of the end user of the software is also an issue. In the consumer product purchasing process, the person who is going to use the product is involved directly in the decision to buy the product. In the corporate world, this is not the case, and a small group of people, who will not use the product or service make the purchase for the many people who will. If you work for a corporation and were provided with a laptop you don’t like and would never buy in a million years, this is a good example of the conflicts and inefficiencies that arise when the purchaser and the consumer are two different individuals. There is simply no getting around the fact that we buy differently when we are the ones who will use the product versus when someone else is going to use the product.

Lack of Scientific Process

Software selection is the most important part of any software implementation because it is the best opportunity to match the software with the business requirements, which is the most important factor in determining the success of the project. While it would be difficult to find anyone who thinks that software selection is unimportant, the vast majority of companies do not treat the selection process scientifically. Consequently, most companies are not able to zero in on the best software to meet their needs, especially when the inherent problems due primarily to conflicts of interest in many of the organizations that serve as information sources for enterprise software are factored in. This book explains how software selection can be improved. While enterprise software is one of the most complex products purchased by companies, good software selection is not all that complicated. For instance, when I compare the complexity of this book on software selection to other books I have written, this book was considerably easier to write. However, to obtain improved results in software selection, some rules must be followed. In short, these rules inject greater structure, better documentation, and a more scientific approach into the selection process.

Books and Other Publications on Software Selection

As with all my books, I perform a comprehensive literature review before I begin writing any book. One of my favorite research quotations is from the highly respected RAND Corporation, a think tank based in sunny Santa Monica, CA—a location not far from where I grew up and where I used to walk right by with my friend when I was in high school—at that time having no idea of the historically significant institution that I used to walk by on my lost surfing weekends. This is from RAND’s “Standards for High Quality Research and Analysis” publication makes the following statement regarding how its research references other work.

“A high-quality study cannot be done in intellectual isolation: It necessarily builds on and contributes to a body of research and analysis. The relationships between a given study and its predecessors should be rich and explicit. The study team’s understanding of past research should be evident in many aspects of its work, from the way in which the problem is formulated and approached to the discussion of the findings and their implications. The team should take particular care to explain the ways in which its study agrees, disagrees, or otherwise differs importantly from previous studies. Failure to demonstrate an understanding of previous research lowers the perceived quality of a study, despite any other good characteristics it may possess.”

According to Amazon, two books on this topic are, The Software Selection Questionnaire and A Guide to Software Package Evaluation and Selection: The R2ISC Method. I also found several books on how to perform software selections for specific types of software:

  1.  Selecting Warehouse Software from WMS & ERP Providers—Expanded Edition: Find the Best Warehouse Module or Warehouse Management System. This book is, of course, very specific to one type of software, and gets into great detail on the criteria that should be used to evaluate warehouse management software.
  2. Selecting and Implementing Energy Trading, Transaction and Risk Management Software—a Primer. This is another very specific software selection book.

The Most Common Category

The above books cannot be readily applied to the selection process of other software categories. Interestingly, ERP was by far the most common category of software discussed in software selection articles and academic publications. Unfortunately, I found most of this material to be tedious. Generally speaking, the material on ERP software selection does not apply to the selection of other forms of enterprise software, which employ smaller teams. In addition, a major issue in the selection of ERP software is the interplay between different departments—ERP involves at least four major departments: sales, supply chain, manufacturing and finance, and can include other departments as well. Each of these departments has vastly differing interests. The number of departments and their varied interests is less of a factor on most other software selection projects, which are more narrowly focused. However, some of the lessons of ERP software selections do apply to reporting (now known as “business intelligence” software), as all departments within a company rely upon reports in one way or another.

The books listed above are must-reads if you are selecting software in the pertinent software category. Some of the rules in these books would apply across other software categories, but I felt that an all-encompassing software selection book that could apply to all categories would be desirable.

The Lack of Material on Software Selection

Outside of the publications mentioned previously, there is a surprising lack of material available on the overall topic of software selection. A Google search results in the same paucity of substantial information on the topic. In fact, most of the articles I found through my Google search relate to consulting companies that sell software selection services. The articles tended to be short, cover the elementary areas of software selection, and include topics such as “The Top 7 Mistakes of Software Selection.” If an article such as this included “Get Top Management Support” as one of its points, I know the author was really mailing it in. The majority of writing on software selection is truly lightweight in nature and does not get into the intricacies or the interpretation of information necessary to pull off a successful software selection. The items listed in Table 4 are a good example of what I am referring to.

Software selection tends to be discussed using the above terminology. But, this book will be much different: it will provide an analysis of the institutional incentives of the major entities that provide software information to companies and will discuss the many shades of gray that are missing from most analyses about software selection.

Realistic Explanations of Software Selection

I found that the books and articles on software selection are consistently Pollyannaish. They tend to describe a way of performing software selection that is far from realistic for most companies. Certainly it is necessary to make recommendations for improvement; however, recommendations should not be far out of the realm of what companies can reasonably adopt or accomplish. Just as with software design, recommendations for improvements cannot only be desirable; they must be implementable. For instance, let’s say someone wrote a book about losing weight, which recommended eating a perfect diet and bicycling three hours a day, six days a week. While these recommendations would certainly work, they are simply too extreme to be followed by anyone other than a small segment of the population. Therefore, it makes more sense to highlight a pathway that a large section of the readership can actually follow.

Searching Academic Publications

I also searched academic publications on software selection. Here I found quite a few articles. Generally, I am a big supporter of referencing previous work in any of my new works, and I have done this in most of my other books. For example in Inventory Optimization and Multi-Echelon Planning, I dedicated an appendix to the early research papers in the field because I thought it was important that readers understand this history. However, I did not take this approach in this current book because the majority of the articles did not resonate with me or were too “mechanical” in nature. In addition, as a group, they have a different orientation regarding software selection than what I want to present in this book. If you have read books or articles on software selection in the past, you will find this book to be completely different.

Most information on software selection is about how to do things such as setting up the team, filling out the software selection questionnaire, and sending out the RFP to the vendors. These software selection topics make up only one chapter of this book. Instead, this book is focused on how to interpret the information used by the software selection team to make the decision. As there is very little information on this topic, there is little previous work to reference.

Financial Disclosure

Financial Bias Disclosure

This article and no other article on the Brightwork website is paid for by a software vendor, including Oracle and SAP. Brightwork does offer competitive intelligence work to vendors as part of its business, but no published research or articles are written with any financial consideration. As part of Brightwork’s commitment to publishing independent, unbiased research, the company’s business model is driven by consulting services; no paid media placements are accepted.

Software Selection

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