If you already own custom software tools you know they can make a huge difference for your organization. They can automate tedious work being performed by your team members and enhance your sales portfolio by making it easier for your customers to do business with you. There are two different types of software tools; The ones that need a technology refresh and those that will need it in the future...
In the short history of personal computing we have learned that adequately maintained software tools can work quite well for up to 10-15 years if properly maintained. While there are many practical reasons why you should not wait this long for a technology refresh, the truth is that it can work. The typical comment we hear is “if it's not broken, don’t fix it”, the real question is how to decide when software really needs to be refreshed/updated to the latest technologies?
To make the right decision we generally consider three important elements; Total cost of ownership, general effectiveness, and perception in the marketplace (for customer-facing tools).
Total Cost of Ownership:The TCO of your software tools includes all aspects of maintenance, which breaks down into three categories; development or coding effort, data maintenance, and system maintenance. First, the development effort will increase as features and functionality are added. Under the hood these new features can create conflict with the original code and increase the difficulty in troubleshooting and maintenance. Second, the product data can start to create challenges as the maintenance team works to add information that doesn’t exactly fit the original functionality. They will find ways to trick the system into doing what they want, which will increase the maintenance effort moving forward. Third, new operating systems, browsers, and plug-ins can create incompatibilities and increase the difficulty in maintaining servers and desktop applications over time, not only for IT but also for the actual users of your tools.
The life cycle of all software tools is exactly the same. At the beginning a little effort goes a long way to add new value to the application, but in later years the maintenance effort will become so difficult and messy it is no longer worth the benefits gained. Often we find companies don’t realize the effort that is going on behind the scenes to keep their tools maintained because their personnel just consider it a necessary evil and part of their daily routine.
General Effectiveness or Usability:Is the software saving the user as much time as possible? Just because the software tool is much faster than performing the task manually doesn’t mean it is as effective as it can be. The benefit your software tool brings can be calculated in simple terms by comparing the time it takes to perform those tasks without the tool. It should be based on the average hourly rate of the employee using the software or better yet, the dollar value of sales that employee manages or generates while using the tool. We have found over the years the benefit software tools bring can range in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per minute when compared to the sales they are effecting – yes I said per minute! Using real numbers for your situation, you can start to understand how important it is for the software tool to be as quick and easy as possible.
Having a usability expert review your software tools is critical to making sure it is as effective as possible. Don’t underestimate the cost of a click – the fewer the better!
Technologies do change over time, bringing with them a number of benefits in how software looks, feels, or functions (E.g. usability). By keeping up with the latest technologies, your software tools can potentially offer very useful improvements to your users. This is something that should be evaluated regularly as new platforms become available. I am not suggesting for a minute that you should be on the bleeding edge, but your software needs to be frequently put through the filter of new technology offerings to understand the potential improvements and what they will mean to the users.
Perception in the Marketplace:Your customer-facing tools are competing with other tools installed on your customer’s computers. So it is critical that your software is quick and easy to use, and hopefully provides some features that your competition doesn’t have. Customers simply expect you to provide excellent tools to make their work easier. By doing so, you create a situation where customers don’t want to use the competitors software. We like to call this “electronic heroine” because our customers get hooked and always want more. It keeps them coming back to us as well as increasing the difficulty of them leaving us for one of our competitors.
By closely managing these critical aspects of your software tools, you will insure they are creating the greatest value for your users while keeping your costs under control. Don't leave your software tools strategy to chance. Be sure to assign a trusted individual to own your software tools and charge them to keep up with cost benefit, usability and perception in the marketplace.