While the job of evaluating software has traditionally fallen to the IT department, line of business managers are seeing their spending specifically for technology on the rise. So they may find themselves in the unusual territory of judging whether software is appropriate for business or not.

While IT professionals have to deal with different software alerts and updates very frequently in the field, business managers may not be exposed to that. With more and more companies producing similar software, it is essential that these software variations are evaluated based on both their merits and drawbacks. It wouldn’t make sense to purchase software that ends up being a money pit even if the upfront cost is minimal. This is how some companies tend to do business, though. They sell a cheap product, but in the end, users have to pay more to get it working the way they need it to or to simply have all of the features.

Other companies prey on larger businesses by limiting scalability and the amount of users. Many of the hardships associated with new software can be avoided if IT personnel do proper evaluations of products that they wish to acquire. They can then make the necessary recommendations to management with unbiased supporting data to back their choices. While there are numerous criteria that can be used to gauge software, the following five are the absolute minimum questions that should be asked as a universal basis for these recommendations.

Usability

Is the software appropriate for the purpose that it is advertised to do? Is the software the appropriate one needed for the stipulated purpose?

While these two questions seem similar, they are actually quite different. The first question deals with the product living up to its credentials. When software companies claim that their product can do certain tasks at a specified performance level, it should deliver such performance despite a differing environment. The second question deals more with the software being the right fit for one’s own specific needs.

Scalability

This characteristic describes how software functions despite varying sizes of data, number of users or scope. More often than not, the larger the number of people accessing the software at the same time, the slower it functions in spite of having fast computers if the software is a networked resource. For example, if you are using an email marketing software, you will want to know how many subscribers this software is actually going send. Even if the software is running native to the computer that someone is using, if it must communicate with a large number of users, performance can be slowed.

Deployment

It is not enough to know whether or not particular software meets your needs. There may be issues relating to installing the software if it involves a complex procedure or requires additional hardware or software to make it run. For complex systems like an RDBMS shared between multiple departments, the company has to consider other extraneous requirements. This is one factor that affects the up-front cost of acquiring certain software applications.

Interoperability

The more complex a system is, the more important it is for an application to operate seamlessly with other software and hardware. It doesn’t make sense to purchase software that has a data type which can’t be interpreted by other systems that need it. It is wrong to assume that just because something uses digital information it can be interpreted by another program. Some software use proprietary formats and won’t work with others.

Cost

Technical issues aside, cost is usually a significant factor when evaluating software. While it would be nice to purchase the best software, they usually are cost prohibitive. The IT professional has to consider an alternative if the company can’t afford what is desired. They may consider modular software and purchase only the functions that are needed in the short term as an option. In the end, when asking management for funding to acquire it, be ready to present two or more choices while listing the advantages and disadvantages for each. If a more expensive option is desired, show management how the additional cost can be mitigated through creative means like staged implementation, staggered payment and so on. A cost-benefit analysis will surely be a helpful tool to convince management to see the comparisons between these various options.

It’s obvious that software evaluation is important in an IT professional’s line of work. The operational and financial viability of a company can be tremendously affected by the decisions made when purchasing software. Thanks to open source software, financial challenges that once plagued companies needing software solutions are becoming a thing of the past. They aren’t always the easiest or ideal choice for everyone though. With the right analysis of the various options available, a company does not need to exhaust its finances with useless or frivolous software, regardless of the price.

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