Part 2: How to Run a Software Needs Discovery
Part 1 of our series took us through how to be proactive in preventing and managing problematic business processes. In Part 2 of our series, we’ll be discussing how to evaluate your business’s needs and create a list of software requirements that you need for your business.
Discover What Your Business Needs to be More Efficient
You have a long-term vision of what you want your business to be—a competitor at the top of your industry, operating with the most effective and ideal business processes. Reaching your vision means keeping up with the research and development of your current business processes by looking for ways to improve on them with better software and technological solutions. As your business grows, so will its needs, making it necessary to manage and improve on outdated technologies and incorporate new ones you’ve never had. To fully understand what your business needs for success, work backwards step-by-step through your business processes to see how employees interact with the systems. Then, consider what applications could be implemented to help reach your end goal. Many processes today can be managed or even automated by using the right software, eliminating a bulk of mundane tasks.
Evaluate Your Business and What You Need to Reach Your Goals
What do you need to accomplish to take your business to a higher level? To figure this out, look at your current business processes, understand how they function, determine the efficiency of each process along with the software supporting it, and pinpoint key functions that are missing or that can be improved for increased efficiency. When gathering this information, you’ll want to identify key people who can help clarify what you need for processes to run the way you want—this could include employees, customers, or vendors. You want to speak to the people who truly understand the business processes you are reviewing to get their perspective and ideas. Ask yourself and your advisors:
- How do your staff, customers, and vendors interact with current systems?
- Are people doing things a certain way because current systems force them into it or because it’s actually the best way to do it?
- How could those systems be more efficient?
- What functionalities are missing from these systems?
- What processes or features are redundant or not necessary to your business?
- What is slowing people down or creating bottlenecks in your business?
- What does your business need to able to expand into new marketing areas of opportunity?
- Do you have the resources internally to address these issues?
Over time, processes can become obsolete while some features remain mandatory. Many businesses get stuck on finding the resources internally to solve these problems. This is because they don’t understand their options, what solutions are out there, or where to go next. When your business outgrows the software behind its processes, start by making a list of requirements you need from your processes and technological solutions to enable your business to run the way you envision.
To keep your software discovery organized, fill out and add to the following chart to help analyze your business processes and the requirements you need. This information will help you later on in Part 3: Creating a Software Comparison Chart. Use these examples below to help you get started:
|Accounting – Bookkeeping and paperwork is manually transferred to computer.||
|Email Marketing – User lists manually created on Gmail. Emails and responses are sent manually.||
|Project Management – Team managers keep track of project schedules and assign employees to tasks.||
Discovering Your Options and the Available Solutions
Understanding exactly what features you need before moving forward is crucial to the success of implementing new software solutions. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to struggle when trying to pinpoint the underlying issues within business processes, especially when you’ve become accustomed to interacting with your current systems in a certain way. This can make finding a specific and unique solution difficult. To figure this out, you may need a consultant who will work to understand your business model and processes while factoring in your short and long-term goals. Since people can become deeply involved within their own businesses, they typically don’t have the time or perspective to see a full picture of all the solutions available. Often, there are technologies and software solutions businesses need, but they just don’t know what’s out there.
“There are technologies and software solutions businesses need, but they just don’t know what’s out there.”
For those who try and solve the issue internally, it can cause strain to your business’s operation efficiency if you don’t have the proper resources to allocate towards finding new solutions. Without the time and tools to properly evaluate and implement new technologies, you may end up with a sub-par solution. The longer it takes to fix the issues, the more business you will lose out on. It should always be a priority to solve business problems quickly, but more importantly, you need to find a solution that meets the needs of your vision and long-term goals—that way you don’t end up back where you started (or worse).
Consulting with a technology firm can be extremely valuable in understanding what options are available that suit your business’s needs. You never want to start implementing or developing a solution, only to find out it doesn’t have all the features you need. As designers of software solutions with a broad pool of experience from which to pull, they can help identify and implement new features for your current software solutions or create new systems that are unique to your business processes. Available solutions include but are not limited to:
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) – A collective system of applications that help to manage and automate functions such as:
- Resource planning
- Project planning
- Accounting and financial applications
- Human resources and payroll
- Service Delivery
- Distribution process management
- Supply chain management
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – Gathers all customer service, marketing, and sales data in one place. Allows for management and automation of many day-to-day tasks.
- Task management
- Marketing automation
- Email automation
- Social media management
- Accounting add-ons – Can be used to add automation to existing accounting solutions (such as QuickBooks), alleviating a lot of redundant and administrative tasks.
- Collections automation
- Customer service portals
- Mobile solutions – Create stand-alone or integrated mobile apps to help facilitate business operations while away from the office. Among others, features could include:
- Onsite Sales
- Service Management
- Customer Apps
- Subcontractor Management
- Software integration with existing systems – Integrate software in a way that interacts with your other systems creating a more seamless process. Create information flows among two or more existing systems, or with a new system you are implementing.
- Mobile Solutions
Prioritize Your Requirements
Be realistic—prioritize your needs, budget your resources, and assess the value of solutions. When looking at available options in comparison to the requirements your business needs, realize that software and technology development is part of an ongoing business strategy. Set your vision towards your current needs that will best position you for future progress and return on your investment. For example:
An established delivery company wants to compete with UPS, with better customer service and faster shipping—however, they don’t have the resources they need to compete. While the delivery company has their own software systems in place, they’re nowhere near to the extent of UPS, whose software helps to expedite many of their processes (freight management, package management, sales management, customer service portal, etc). While they don’t have the finances to have all the same solutions as UPS, the do have enough to allocate towards their core business differentiators. Sharing their vision with a technology solutions provider and prioritizing their needs, the delivery company was able to implement an ERP with real-time distribution process management, inventory and order processing, and an integrated customer service portal. The ERP, distribution, inventory & ordering systems allow them to move more packages faster while keeping better track of their location. With their customer service portal, they are able to have businesses subscribe to their shipping services, see package statuses in real-time, and chat with account managers, increasing their overall business and customer loyalty.
When choosing software, compromising non-critical areas to address your immediate business needs and then adding more features later should be an integral part of your ongoing business strategy. The delivery company was able to implement some of the features they needed to allow them to continue competing with the larger businesses like UPS. As they grow, they can have their solutions provider develop more features to integrate into their current systems that will make help them achieve their goal of being a real competitor to UPS.
Continue thinking about which software solutions you can use to solve your business needs. If you need help, don’t be afraid to consult an expert! In Part 3 of the series, we’ll dive deeper into how to compare available software solutions.
Figuring Out What Software Solutions are Best for Your Business
When creating a business strategy for implementing new technologies, your first goal should always be to address current issues and outdated processes. After that, your focus should be geared towards your ultimate vision of the business and the technologies you’ll need to get there. For businesses that don’t have the resources internally, finding the best technology and software solutions for your business can be a difficult endeavor on your own. Pairing with technology solutions experts can provide the insight you need to fully understand what software solutions will ultimately take your business to a higher level.
For more on comparing available solutions and finding the best software suited for your unique business processes, read Part 3: Creating a Software Comparison Chart.