Selecting Software for SMEs: How to select the best software for your business

A series of articles helping you to improve your business performance through technology

What key factors should you consider before selecting new software

System selection is a monumental task; made harder for small-to-medium-enterprises (SMEs) with the over saturation of the market and the wealth of marketing which is poured out by companies. Depending on your requirements there are a huge range of products which may fit your criteria – and sometimes it may feel that there are none at all. After all, there is a lot of moving parts to consider. Through this series we will look at three key points;

  • The common problems SMEs face when trying to select business software

  • Detail the key points any business should consider before selection

  • Provide some insight on the solutions you likely already have at your fingertips, with Office 365.

This is our second article of our Software Selection for SMEs series - you can read the first article, on common problems faced by SMEs here.

For the majority of SMEs, the main barriers to adopting new technologies is cost, with 57% of companies citing it as their main concern and over one third stating that they are unsure of technology’s suitability for small business. Of course, at x10 we believe that technology does have a place in SMEs and can provide vital assistance and insight to improve your business. To ensure that any technology you implement provides insight, consider all aspects of your business. Consider all departments or individuals that your software will affect. This means considering your employees’ needs and work processes, your customers’ needs and how they interact with your own.

So, what do you need to consider?

1. What are your business requirements?

Before you begin to sift through different software vendors take time to assess your business requirements. Consider your business processes and outline how these processes interact between your employees and customers. Consider what requirements are “need-to-haves” and what are “nice-to-haves.” Prioritise. Why?

It’s unlikely that you will find software off-the-shelf which suits all of your needs. Nonetheless, many solutions can be flexible and adapted to your business processes, provided you are aware of which requirements are most important to you. Once you know which requirements are “need-to-haves” you can disregard any solutions which are not suitable. Be specific and ruthless with your decisions.

2. Price and affordability

Of course, it is a given that you will need to consider the costs of implementing new technologies within your business. Consider what you can afford, not only now but in the future. If you begin to scale up, what will the costs be? Are there hidden costs above and beyond the subscription price? Consider the number of users or licenses you will need, particularly if you plan to expand. Often the jump between ‘Lite’ or SME subscriptions to ‘Professional’ or Enterprise is large – ensure you compare the differences and are purchasing a plan that suits your needs best.

Alternatively, if you are looking at software which does not operate on a subscription basis, consider the potential costs of support and upgrades. Particularly with custom-built software, prices will fluctuate greatly due to the depth and breadth of your requirements – is it worthwhile omitting certain requirements?

3. People

At x10 we often tell our clients that the key to any project implementation is ensuring the people are on-board. When on-boarding a new software solution, consider your employees and your clients. No solution will work if your employees cannot adapt to using it or worse, refuse to incorporate it into their working day. A significant aspect to consider is the software user experience (often referred to as UX) as this can greatly affect the productivity and efficiency of its users.

It is not uncommon, nor unreasonable, to take on-board your employees’ opinions when considering the requirements or the UX which will impact them. We would always recommend incorporating your key employees within your decision making process where you can. This will forgo any problems before they may happen, as your employees can be part of solution - not the problem.

4. Efficiency and Productivity

Ask yourself as you look at different products: is this going to make life easier? Does it allow me or my team to collaborate in a way that is suitable, efficient and productive? Particularly for SMEs, it can be difficult to find software which is not overly complex or difficult to adapt to their business processes.

To become more profitable and competitive, businesses will need a system to support them anywhere, at any time – but without great cost.

One solution to this problem is custom-built software solutions. Although this can be helpful to assess ways you could be more efficient and productive, custom-builds can have costs starting from £40,000 upwards, depending on the complexity of the build, whether it is in the cloud or on premise and the number of users who require access.

5. Security

Finally, it is important to consider the security which different software can offer you. If you are like the average SME, you will not have a dedicated team of IT professionals to address any issues you encounter. Consider writing a list of the data you will need to hold, whether you want on-premise hard drives as back up or whether you will store all of your data in the cloud. Request information from vendors about how they protect against malware, spam and phishing, how they back-up your data and whether they are GDPR compliant.

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s not unreasonable to also request information on the data mining activities of the company. It is possible that your software may scan your emails or documents for building analytics, data mining or to provide personalised advertising.

Additionally, request information on where the company’s data centres are located and who can access your data under certain circumstances.

If you are struggling to make sense of the security risks involved, consider enlisting the help of an IT or business consultant.

Next week we will discuss our favourite solution to software selection, Microsoft's Office 365, and why we believe it can answer many of the problems faced by SMEs.

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