Buying Packaged Software? – Caveat Emptor!

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/02635579010140016
Publication Date01 Feb 1990
Pages11-13
AuthorJ.D. Sasserath
SubjectEconomics,Information & knowledge management,Management science & operations
BUYING PACKAGED SOFTWARE! CAVEAT EMPTOR! 11
A
step-by-step guide to software package
selection including the pitfalls to avoid.
Buying
Packaged
Software?
Caveat
Emptor
!
J.D.
Sasserath
If
you
are looking to buy and implement a new computer
system:
beware!
There are salesmen around every corner
ready to convince you
how
wonderful their product
is,
and
promising benefits that could promote you to Chairman
within six months.
There are 13 straightforward steps you can take that,
whilst not necessarily ensuring your promotion to the
Board, should result in the purchase of a cost-effective
information system matched to your particular needs and
at the same time protect you from the advances of over-
enthusiastic computer salesmen.
Strategy
Before you dive in at the deep end, looking at software,
talking
to
salesmen, attending
exhibitions,
etc., you should
be very clear of your company's direction and how your
information systems strategy is going to fit your company's
strategy. For instance, you could spend two years
implementing your own transport management system,
only to find at the end of the project that using contract
carriers would have been a more cost-effective solution.
Often a company will have a three- or
five-year
business
plan or a mission statement, and these documents will
identify the main thrust of the business and any anticipated
changes in direction or organisation.
Inbuilt Flexibility
Businesses inevitably are constantly changing. Products,
services, finances, locations, personnel, etc., are
all
subject
to change. Any computer system that you propose must
therefore reflect the corporate strategy and direction and
at the same time be able to cope with changes in company
policy and resources.
To
ensure that
you
achieve this, your
Information Systems (IS) strategy should be worked out
at the highest
level
within
your
organisation.
This
will
require
the parallel activities of identifying your business direction
and defining the supporting business system's functions.
Then present your proposals to the Board in order to
develop a joint understanding.
Feasibility Study
You have now got your toe in the water, the Board are
happy with your proposals so far, and you have some idea
as to how they see the business developing. So where
do you go from here? The answer is to carry out a short
feasibility study, which will put some flesh on your ideas
so far, identify the scope of
the
project, likely timescales,
phases and costs. This process need not take long, and
should result in a short report and presentation to the
Board and senior user managers.
Selecting a Product
Now
that
you have
the Board and senior management enthu-
siastic to push
on with
your
proposals,
what method
do
you
use to select the product that is best for your business:
Some-one else's recommendation?
The cheapest product?
The most convincing salesman?
The corporate standard?
Can you be sure of someone else's recommendation? Do
they know your business and needs? On what basis have
they made their judgement? What sort
of comparative
study
have they made? Only after
you have
established your own
shortlist and preference, should second opinions in the form
of reference sites and recommendations be taken up.
The cost of buying a software product
is
invariably a small
fraction of
the
total implementation cost and likely benefits.
Therefore buying the cheapest product based on price
alone could be a short-sighted decision, and, in the long
term, could involve you in considerably more expense
adapting the system to your business, and your business
to the system.
Computer systems salesmen can be very persuasive,
especially when they
have
the
backing
of a major corporate
marketing team. However, are they listening to you and

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