Expanding your business is an exciting development. Exploring the potential of your business through new software options is a big part of this process, and no less exciting! As we have discussed previously, business management software is a central part of any business and many do not realise the potential for growth by upgrading.
So, what does the next-level software offer and how can it help grow your business?
Greater depth and broader range of functionality
The next-level of business software offers much more than just the basic recording or bookkeeping functions that entry level software provides. They are designed so that the processes you need are part and parcel of the one system, so they offer a lot more functionality.
As an example, let’s look at what you might find from a procurement perspective:
Customer backorders – when no stock is available at the warehouse or other branches – need to be purchased or manufactured, as do job orders. Stock reorder reports can either raise a stock transfer request to the warehouse or feed into purchasing. In larger organisations purchases might come through a central purchasing department and require authorisation. After a purchase order is raised and goods are received, these may go back to the customer, the job, into stock, out to a store or consumed internally.
Making the decision to upgrade your software can be a very daunting and intimidating task, but if you arm yourself with the right information you can get started on the right foot and be on your way to a successful software upgrade. We have listed a few pointers which will help you through the process.
Identify which areas of your business require automation
You need to know what functions you want your system to do and you need to assess whether the features of the business software you choose meet your specific needs. A good place to start is by analysing what is lacking in your current system, and build from there. Make a list of requirements and break it down into mandatory and nice to have features.
It is important to note that not all systems provide the same business functions, and each product will have different levels of functionality within each of these areas. This means it is important to have a detailed list of what you need the software to do in order to assess which software can best meet those requirements.
Common business functions include:
- General Ledger
- Job Costing
- Point of Sale
- Sales Order Processing
- Fixed Assets
- Bank Reconciliation
- Bill of Materials
- Serial Number Tracking
- Purchase Ordering
- Purchase Requisitions
- Sales Analysis
- Special Pricing
- Foreign Currency
- Electronic Funds
- Multi-Branch Reporting
- eCommerce/Web Shop
- Report Writers
Hire a consultant
If you’re not sure about this whole process then hiring a consultant can be a good way to go. Look for a consultant that is “independent” and going to have your best interests at hand.
They can provide guidance, help look for new ways to expand your business and they can also help avoid complications. Their expertise in the field means they can evaluate your business and recommend the most suitable systems, and then help you evaluate these.
Consider your budget
It is crucial that you have budgeted for all aspects of the solution. Consider these points:
- The software purchase price or rental cost
- Any additional hardware requirements
- Installation, configuration and training
- Data conversion
- Productivity and lost time
- Ongoing support and maintenance
Involve the right people
If the implementation involves every area of your business, you need to get people from those areas involved in the evaluation process. Ask them what features they are looking for and consider everyone’s requirements. That way everyone affected by the change can feel they were a part of the decision-making process. This may also mean involving your external accountant.
Evaluate Different Systems
Based on your requirements and budget you should be able to identify a few systems that might be primary candidates. On closer analysis of their features you should be able to narrow this down to two or three packages. You should then have a detailed demonstration of these two or three systems. Don’t be shy to ask for a second demonstration if you would like one, and make sure you involve other critical stake holders like the accountant, office manager or production manager. Provide them with a list of your requirements upfront so they can tailor the demonstration to your needs, and ask to see critical areas.
Ensure you are comfortable with the product
The phrase “user-friendly” is over-used in the IT industry and it is important that you feel that (with training) you can utilise the functions you require. Are screen layouts clear and concise? Is online help available? Is data entry straight forward? Having a test drive of the system might be a good way to get a feel of it. However, a word of caution; test driving a larger system is not necessarily going to be productive for looking at all its functionality. Larger systems, by their nature, need specific configuration to work to your needs. Also without adequate training you might get the wrong impression from the system and get frustrated that you don’t know how to operate it fully.
Ask to talk to some reference sites. This is one of the best ways to get comfortable with the product. Get some feedback from real users who have been using the product for a period of time.
Also examine the organisation that you are buying the software from. Most software products are not sold and supported directly by the manufacturer; this is normally done through financial software specialists or dealers. What size is the organisation, how much experience do they have, how many consultants do they have? Software consultants are the vital link between you and the software application. They are the key to a seamless and successful installation.
Other handy tips:
- There is no such thing as the perfect match, however your system should meet 80%+ of your business’ needs.
- Ensure you choose a software dealer who provides adequate training and support – e.g. support hotline for everyday queries, on-site support for more major issues, and remote access support.
- Look for a solution developed in Australia to ensure it meets all statutory requirements (e.g. taxation).
- It is better to buy a bigger system that you can grow into, rather than a smaller system that you will need to upgrade again in the future. Or even better, buy a system that is flexible and grows with your business.
- Do not underestimate the task! It requires a lot of planning and preparation to ensure a smooth transition free of complications. Your consultant can help with this.