To meet today’s rising demands for customization, speed, sustainability, and cost efficacy, print shops around the world are under pressure to increase process efficiencies and profit margins. One of the fastest ways to reduce errors, streamline production, and create more value across your print production line is through the business process automation features that come with print management software.
Whether you are ready to make the move to integrated ERP/MIS software or you’re just starting your research, make sure to read our Print Shop Management Software Selection Guide. We’ve included some great tips on software requirements and steps to be aware of before starting the selection process.
But implementing print management technology is not a short-term fix. It’s a complex body of work that will impact your operational effectiveness for the next 6 to 10 years. Adopting and maintaining a core business application over that time period requires a significant commitment of resources in order to reap the benefits. That’s why it is shocking to find out how few organizations invest the appropriate time and due diligence in the business application selection process.
In a large-scale software implementation that touches every area of your print business, the risk of project failure is high. When you consider the average business application implementation success rate is a mere 35%, you need to learn from the mistakes of others and do all you can to select the right software and partner. Based on the idea that improved understanding and planning leads to fewer surprises and cost overruns, this blog post is intended to help you reduce the risk of selecting the wrong print management software and partner for your upcoming implementation project.
So, let’s dive right into the 8 most common mistakes to avoid during software selection:
1. Assuming all software is the same.
Many software selection processes are based on an assumption that, because a product was developed by a leading software manufacturer, it will inherently contain the industry-specific functionality required to support your business. This assumption is similar to believing cars and trucks are one and the same. If your requirements are limited to transportation, then both will provide the desired result – right? Not quite. If the ability to haul cargo is a critical business requirement, only one solution is appropriate. While significantly more complex, this concept holds true for the selection of business application solutions as well.
Vast differences in look, feel, and functionality exists between the numerous print management software solutions available in the marketplace. The place to begin sorting out these differences is within your own organization, through the clear definition of your organization’s measurable business outcomes, goals, objectives, strategic imperatives, and business requirements. It is critical to developing an internal company vision and scope document that captures the current and future requirements within each functional department in advance of exploring software solutions. The analysis should differentiate between “must-haves,” “want-to-haves,” and your “wish list” items to support the inevitable prioritization exercise. Key information to compile includes:
- A prioritized list of each department’s needs and requirements including a “wish list”
- A description of how information is shared, and flows, between departments
- Current manual and automated data collection systems
- Organizational goals such as: Improving customer service (with metrics) or ship all orders within 24 hours
- Transaction volume data (i.e. number of customers, orders, invoices, vendors)
- Financial data and reports required by accounting, auditing, and banking stakeholders
- Reports and analysis required for management and day-to-day operations
- Integration requirements with in-house systems and desktop applications
Once your organization’s information is collected and organized, each potential business application must be analyzed in terms of how well it addresses each of your prioritized business objectives and requirements. Place incremental focus on report output, online queries, ease and speed of data entry, the processing time for updating and reporting, as well as the intuitiveness of the user interface.
2. Not having enough time.
Foregoing an immediate solution is better than rushing into the wrong solution. Experienced software solution partners will request and require time with both strategic and operational members of your organization to gather information and requirements about your corporate objectives and business processes. This data is critical to the partner proposing the most appropriate solution set to fit your print business. This is a critical step in software selection, and it is imperative that you make the necessary time commitment to empower and inform the partner to make an educated, pragmatic recommendation. All too often we hear, “I do not have the time to spend with you” or “I can only give you an hour.”
Every company has a unique business model and unique business processes. If you want to truly maximize the potential value of print management software, it is critical that you invest the necessary time up front. If other business priorities are currently consuming an inordinate amount of your time, postpone this project until you can afford it the time it requires. Investing the time, energy and resources necessary to architect an appropriate foundation and business process framework; one that contemplates both current and future business requirements, will pay significant dividends. Limiting your requirements gathering to current challenges or worse, blindly defaulting to the functionality provided in commercial software applications, will inevitably limit business flexibility as well as drive expensive and unnecessary future enhancements.
3. Thinking you can do it on your own.
An experienced software partner will have implemented and upgraded hundreds of business application systems, resulting in a plethora of experience, knowledge, expertise (and project scar tissue) that is difficult if not impossible to replicate. Very few businesses have successfully selected and implemented a business application solution without outside assistance. If you believe your organization is prepared to embark on this approach, ask yourself the following questions:
- Performing a needs analysis and selecting a solution is a full-time job. In addition to their day-to-day functions, does your staff have the time to maintain their current responsibilities, as well as participate in the project team, without impacting their performance.
- A successful solution requires a strong project leader or “quarterback”. Do you have an individual with the business acumen, technical expertise and authority across multiple departments to deliver this project?
- A solution requires an intimate knowledge of hardware, operating systems, and application software. Does your staff have the appropriate certifications, experience and domain knowledge in each of these areas? Have they had direct experience with the application that is being implemented?
- Application software cannot be judged simply by looking at its feature set and promised capabilities. Do your staff have the time and experience to examine all the delivered and promised functionality of competing products to make the right selection?
- Does your staff have the methodologies, communication skills and time to train your end-users after implementation?
- Do you have a resource contingency plan if the project manager or key members of the project team leave?
- Is there an opportunity cost to having key members of your organization committed to selecting and implementing your solution?
- Once a solution is selected, who will perform the data, cleansing, conversion and entry? Do you this critical capability within your current IT organization?
- Will the project team be available to answer end user questions, address challenges and provide ongoing support after go-live?
4. Opting for the cheapest solution.
Your heart and brain are two of most vital organs in your body. If you required surgery on one of these organs, would you interview three doctors and then select the least expensive? Business applications and process automation are critical to organizational productivity, capacity, effectiveness, and success. Instead of selecting a partner based on price alone, you should evaluate price in terms of value received, as measured by a software partner’s knowledge, experience, professionalism, and depth of resources. In the long run, the cost of a poor solution is substantially more expensive than doing it right the first time. Decreased cost always comes with increased risk
5. Making your decision based on family or friends.
Although family and friends genuinely want to help, they rarely have the knowledge, experience and understanding to effectively recommend a complex business application for your print shop. Understanding computers or an aspect of automation is a relatively small part of the overall skill set required to land on the required functionality; it does not make them an expert. Beware of recommendations unless you’re dealing with an experienced implementation professional.
6. Getting wooed by visually appealing features.
Most of today’s business applications have visually appealing graphical user interfaces and it’s easy to get caught up in the sex appeal. The truth is, effectively evaluating software products means looking under the hood and getting your hands dirty. What you should be focused on is evaluating and comparing products based upon the overall feature set as it relates to your current and future needs and requirements. Avoid fixating on a single feature unless it is critical to delivering strategic business benefits. Instead, compare functionality, features, technical design, reporting capabilities, integration options, performance, and usability. Allow the strategic and operational requirements to drive the decision criteria rather than the emotional reaction to a screen layout.
7. Getting stuck in the demo trap.
You can’t judge a book by its cover. Organizations in every industry have convinced themselves that watching a software demonstration will assist in the software selection process. Unfortunately, to the great expense of many, this faulty assumption has proven that choosing software based on orchestrated, self-serving demonstrations can be an incredibly expensive mistake.
There are dozens of factors involved in choosing the most appropriate software for your business; the least important of which is the demo. Quite often when partners are asked for information about the products, the first thing they do is insist on showing you a demo. They prefer showing the fancy features and graphical user interface instead of focusing on more important issues such as:
- What is the design and architecture of the software?
- Is the software current? How proven is it?
- Will the software work harmoniously with your current network?
- Will your employees readily accept it?
- Can it scale as your organizational growth?
Avoid this situation by assessing your current systems and identifying your requirements early on in the process. We have outlined these steps in our Print Shop Management Software Selection Guide.
8. Not getting proper client references from a partner.
Once you have chosen your print management software, the next step is to narrow down the partner who will help you optimize, implement, and adopt the solution. The easiest way to decide is by asking for client references. This will give you an opportunity to discuss their experience with someone who has gone through the process before. When booking a client reference call or meeting, it is important to be considerate of the time request and ensure there is structure to the questions you ask.
While it is unlikely that a partner provided you with the name of an unhappy customer, it is important to ask questions that are of primary concern to you. You can then use those answers to compare other partners and select the one that best fits your business and goals. Our top 10 reference questions are:
- How long have you been working with this particular partner?
- Have they kept their commitments?
- What are the project managers, consultants, and technical support people like to deal with?
- What are their other departments like to deal with?
- Did the partner deliver the project on time as per the project plan agreed to in advance?
- Did they deliver the project on a fixed price contract or was it completed exactly on budget?
- Did you get all of the functionality you were promised?
- Did the partner show up on time to perform the contracted services?
- How quickly and professionally has the partner addressed any project and technical support challenges?
- How satisfied are you with the partner’s overall performance?
How to Select a Print Software Solution Partner
To get the most out of your print management software investment, you need a reliable partner to help get you there. The reality is that not all software implementation partners are built the same and their level of experience and standards vary. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t discover that differentiation until they are in the middle of a failing project and stuck looking for a new partner to rescue the implementation.
So, the last piece of advice that we will leave you with before selecting a new print management system for your business is to pick the right partner from the beginning. To help you do this, we have a great resource that includes key implementation partner selection criteria to consider and a handy comparison scorecard to use in the partner selection process.