“Love It or List It,” a popular TV show, pairs homeowners with a Realtor who helps them find their dream home and a designer who tries to transform their current house into their dream home. In the end, the homeowners must choose to either keep the newly renovated home (“Love It”) or sell it to purchase the new one (“List It”). Only a computer geek like me would watch this show and think, wow, I wish we could create a show like that for software.
I would not recommend holding your breath until the networks hire me to knock on your doors for “Love IT or List IT: Geek Edition,” but I do recommend using the same approach when considering whether or not to make an IT change. Follow these six tips, and you’ll make a better and more informed decision on whether you need to get rid of your software or if it just needs a little TLC.
1. Talk to your users. Don’t consider making a change without speaking to the people who actually spend their time using the software. What do they love and hate about it? Do they want something else? What do they need to do that they cannot do now?
2. Evaluate your current solution the same way you evaluate your other options. When is the last time you saw a product demo of the software you use? I have seen demos where users get excited about a “new feature” that they have had in their current software all along. I also find that the way you implement and use software can be more important than the software itself, so speak to different companies that use it. You can learn a lot by asking other users about what they do and what their most and least favorite features are. Another important question to ask: As a decision-maker, have you ever used the software yourself? In the same way you cannot evaluate a house without stepping inside, you can learn a lot just by trying it out.
3. Do a true cost-benefit analysis. New software implementation is expensive. Make sure you evaluate all the costs, including training, down time and data conversion. Ask if your software could be better utilized, or customized to work better so you can avoid scrapping it and starting over.
4. Check your timing. Is your industry about to make some major change that might force you to switch again in the next two years? You might be better off waiting until the dust settles.
5. Make your decision for the right reasons. Software should be a strategic advantage. In the same way an old home can be “historic” and has stood the test of time, older software can have more mature business rules that improve functionality, reduce data entry errors and have fewer bugs. The platform on which the software runs may be outdated, but that might not matter unless it creates problems with accessibility or interoperability. Virtualization—or the ability to create a modern, virtual platform to support the application—has been a game changer and will keep software running safely forever. All that matters is that you have something that meets your needs.
6. Check your emotions at the door. If you are having a midlife crisis and want to boost your ego, get a Porsche, not a big new software system. And don’t dump perfectly good software because you can’t stand the software company’s CEO. (Special note to software companies: If your brilliant CEO is not a brilliant people person as well, keep the CEO doing what the CEO does best—running the company and building great software. Send your brilliant people person to interact with the customers. Too many times I have heard about an organization that wanted to get rid of software because they didn’t like the company’s CEO.)
In many cases, getting new software is the right decision, but only if the decision process is sound. Buying new software is a major investment in time and money and should be treated as such. So if you are looking to change, evaluate what you have just as you would evaluate your other options and respect your investment by training your users and developing business practices and reports. Your collected data is also an investment that you may not be able to migrate. Also, if you are replacing something home grown, do not just throw it away. Explore selling it. The intellectual property may have more value than your real property.
It would be great if a TV show could do all of this hard work and make your choice easier. But if you take the time to do it right, you will feel much better about your decision.
Thomas M. Dewar is Senior Director of Applications & Healthcare Systems at The New York Foundling.