Our Head of Tech, Lionel Roodyn, explains his top tips for small businesses regarding software and how to best implement it.
Advantages & Disadvantages With Off The Shelf Software
There are certain advantages in buying off the shelf software, and I'll tell you a couple of them. The first is that the initial layout is much less. If you wanted bespoke software, you need to spend a lot of money on the development. Also, off the shelf software is very quick to receive. You literally go out, buy it, install it, and you can begin using it immediately.
With bespoke software, you have to spend the time on the development. And thirdly, there's an enormous amount of effort going into specifying what goes into a piece of software and all that work has been done by a third party because you're buying it off the shelf. The disadvantages of off the shelf software that you need to look out for is the 80/20 rule. Generally speaking, off the shelf software will do 80% of what you need, but that 20% that it doesn't do will probably cause 80% of your pain. Secondly, it takes a while to learn. It hasn't been built by yourselves.
Somebody else has done the thinking here and therefore has built it in the way that they think is best. Thirdly, it will make you change your business. As opposed to you telling the software what to do, the software will be telling you what to do. And finally, if you customise that software, any upgrades that come through might actually disturb what you've done originally. This is something to watch out for.
How To Choose Off The Shelf Software
The most important thing to do is to make a list of your requirements and grade those requirements. So that list should include those requirements that you cannot be without. They're absolutely vital for your business, absolutely vital for that software. Then you should have those items which are your basic needs and the 'nice to haves'. What you do then is you can check against the software, literally tick off those items and make sure that the software that you're thinking of buying has those particular functionalities.
Now you can do this either by demoing the software, getting a free version of the software, and running it within your business. Or you can do some research online and see what that software does. Once you've created your short list, you can compare your costs carefully and decide which one you want to buy. One of the final things that I would mention is that you should check on support levels, find out what levels of support are available, if any, for the official software that you're thinking of purchasing.
Advantages & Disadvantages With Bespoke Software
The advantages that I can quickly think of are that bespoke software matches your needs precisely. It fits and will do exactly what you want it to do. Nothing more and nothing less. Once it has been installed, the learning curve is much less because it's something that you've created, something that you know, and therefore you can get right into it and start using it almost immediately. Then, in the long term, this might be surprising, but it can be cheaper because usually you’ve made a proper agreement, you will not have any licensing fees to pay and the software will be yours.
The initial outlay will be more expensive, but over the long term it could possibly be cheaper. And here are the disadvantages. Obviously, that initial outlay is much greater. The amount of time that you will need to specify the software is also quite big and will require a lot of resource, a lot of thinking, and you'll need to be very carefully that you don’t miss anything out. And therefore that brings into the third disadvantage that I can think of here. And that is the time to delivery. It will take time before you can actually install the software because it needs to be specified and then developed and then installed.
Purchasing Premium Software
It's worth paying a premium for well known software. And the reason for this is that if it's usually well known software like something from Google or from Microsoft or from Intel or the larger companies that everyone has heard of, and if there are issues, it's more likely that you will be able to find a person who can help. Secondly, there's much less chance of incompatibility problems.
These huge companies pour an enormous amount of resources into making sure that their software works on any single machine that you can think of in any single configuration that you could possibly think of, or anything that might happen to a machine throughout its lifetime. And thirdly, the well-known software will have support also for the smaller customer, where as the lesser known software companies generally tend to put their support or concentrate their support on their larger customers.
The Importance Of Testing
Whether you purchased bespoke software or off the shelf software, it is absolutely vital that you test that software before you completely accept it from either the seller or the developers. And by doing testing, you will absolutely check that the software that you are introducing into your business will work in the way that you expect. And the way that you do this testing is literally by using both the old system and the new system in parallel and making sure that the results that you get out of the new system match precisely the results that you get out of your existing system.
So an invoice will look the way you're expecting it to look, the numbers that appear on it are the numbers that you expect to appear. The only thing that I also should mention is that when you are doing your testing, is to test the edge cases. Test those cases which are unusual, test those cases that are the extreme cases within your business to make sure that they also work with your new software.
The Benefits Of Cloud Computing
My advice is to move over to cloud computing as soon as you possibly can. And the reasons for that, there are many, but here I'll mention a few. One of the main reasons is that you will no longer need to maintain servers. All the servers are completely maintained by the cloud provider, by the service provider.
Backups also are a lot safer and a lot more controlled. Less of the work will need to be done by you and more of the work will be done by the service provider. In addition, cloud based environments are enormously secure. They're set in huge data centres which are protected from fire, from theft, from bad weather conditions, etc.
And finally, you will be able to have ease of access from any location because your information, your data is in the cloud, you'll be able to access it from anywhere where there is an internet connection using any device.