Andy Wolber | 14 Oct, 2020
Modern solutions let you sign-up and subscribe to cloud-based software solutions, rather than pay for the one-time purchase of a monolithic system. When you need another account, more speed, increased capacity, extra storage, or an additional function, you add it. Need more? Pay more. The subscription model makes sense — especially in enterprises — since it provides developers an economic incentive to deliver on-going improvements, fixes, and features.
For IT leaders, enterprise software selection involves a predictable sequence of steps: Identify a need, specify requirements, evaluate alternatives, then choose and deploy a solution. Obviously, any system you select must meet your needs. Requirements for an accounting system, a CAD system, a mind-mapping solution, or project management system will vary significantly. The greater the number of needs (and people!) a system must serve, the more complex the selection process becomes.
But too often leaders (often outside of IT) read about and consider solutions that aren’t quite ready for enterprise use. Consider the following features when you evaluate any potential new cloud-based apps.
Pay attention to the variety of platforms a vendor actively supports. Does an app work on the web — in any browser (e.g., Edge, Firefox, and Safari) or only in Chrome? Does the vendor also offer native apps for Windows, macOS, or Linux? Are mobile apps for Android and iOS available? The ability to support multiple platforms indicates a developer has at least a certain scale. And when a developer delivers frequently-updated apps on multiple platforms, that’s an additional good sign.
Enterprise-friendly apps offer web-based sign-up and administrative control over user accounts. Ideally, an administrator can sign up for a service, then add, assign, or remove user accounts — all without the need for the administrator to contact the vendor. Not all software vendors offer this. Start-ups sometimes only allow for individual account sign-up, without administrative controls or management. And a few vendors still make you “call for pricing” (or, worse, allow you to sign-up online, but require that you “call customer service to cancel”). Avoid vendors that lack administrative account management or force you to make a phone call. Instead, seek services that let an administrator from your organization sign-up and self-manage accounts online.
When possible, avoid additional sign-ins, storage, and application silos. Look for solutions that support single-sign on (SSO) that you can connect to your organization’s existing identity management solution, such as your Microsoft 365 or G Suite account. Similarly, seek apps that work well with your existing software systems and also let you save data to your organization’s storage systems (e.g., Amazon, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive, or even your own selected servers, etc.). At a more technical level, look for systems that offer an application programming interface (API), which makes it possible for programmers to access and work with data on the web.
Review how well your potential solution documents data changes and supports data export. For example, the best accounting systems automatically preserve all changes for audit purposes. Prefer systems that let you identify not only what data has been changed, but also who made the change and when they made it. Additionally, evaluate how you might extract your data — ideally, in an industry standard format — from a system.
While not always a key consideration, the number and nature of a customer community can change how useful a solution is to your organization in the long term. In general, it makes sense to prefer a vendor that serves a significant number of customers and actively works to connect and encourage conversations among customers. For example, in the enterprise database space Salesforce offers a prominent example of a company that has actively encouraged customer conversations. For smaller vendors, consider how actively the company engages with people online, not only on the company’s own support forums, but also on social media, such as Twitter.
What’s your experience?
Have you ever encountered a challenge when working with a subscription software vendor? When you select software for your organization, do you evaluate each of the above criteria? Are there additional features you consider when choosing subscription-based software? Share your experience and thoughts with us, either in the comments or on Twitter.
Andy Wolber (Twitter: @awolber) helps people understand and leverage technology. He's a contributing writer for TechRepublic, and has taught Nonprofit and Government Technology for Grand Valley State University. Prior staff roles include positions with Michigan Nonprofit Association, the Dallas Historical Society, and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. He's also served as a volunteer leader for the Technology Advisory Committee of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, as well as the Dallas Arts District Friends. He holds an MBA/MA in Arts Administration and a BA in Music Theory & Composition. Andy lives in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.
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