When you are searching for a new software product to solve a problem, you probably focus on two things: features and cost. I have done the same thing, several times. Most software marketing focuses on the same two things, so this is natural. But this approach drastically increases the risk of post-purchase failure. Personally, my biggest software selection failure came from this exact mindset and it slowed my team down for several years.

Exploring Total Cost of Ownership

The cost of a software purchase is just money: an up-front payment plus annual maintenance, or monthly payments for a SaaS product. The cost can be significant, and may require a lot of difficult budget negotiations, however, in the end, the purchase is approved, the cost is added to the budget, and the pain is over.

The bigger cost is time. The one thing every organization lacks is time and deploying software requires people from the whole organization to invest their time. Implementing the software and training staff takes time, while resolving problems and managing results also takes a hefty chunk time. User adoption also costs a huge amount of time, as well as lost productivity, typically for several months.

Hidden Costs of Failed Deployments

The opportunity cost on that time investment is great, even where the project succeeds, but what if the project fails?

If the project fails, all the time you have spent is lost forever, and even worse, more time is needed to reverse the failure. If you decide to try again, you have to repeat the whole process of selection, deployment and training. I should also mention, all of these costs can damage your reputation and credibility, costing you political capital that you will almost certainly need later.

If you try to dodge this fate by working around the problems, things get even worse. You spend time and money modifying the product and teaching users the workarounds, while these same workarounds and limitations create drag that slows everyone down permanently.

I call this a “zombie” implementation and in my experience it is actually far worse than never trying in the first place.

Keeping Customers Happy

The worst outcome of all is if the system is so bad that it hurts your customers. If the problems slow you down enough to hurt customer service, they will notice and this has serious ramifications for the viability of the business itself. Also, if you lose their data, they may start doing business with your competitors, especially those that take better care of them.

The cost of a failure like that is incalculable!

How can you avoid these failures?

Change your process and mindset when it comes to product selection.

Don’t compare each option’s cost and features to all the others – this is simplistic, and more vitally, ignores the real implications of the decision. Instead, define exactly what usability, support, reliability and performance you require to succeed. Reject every option that does not surpass every criteria you set and only after you have eliminated the products that will fail should you then proceed to evaluate the costs.

If you have good options that fit in your budget, then your selection will be easy, however, if every option that meets your criteria is too expensive, you must re-evaluate whether this project is worth the cost and then go back and get the budget required for the solution you need.

This approach to software selection is more work than the traditional approach and it may cause you to select a more expensive software solution in dollar terms. The upside is that you are far more likely to prevent deployment failure, which will ultimately reduce your costs of both time and money significantly, while ensuring you deliver what the business and customers truly need.

For a consideration of the Build versus Buy decision when it comes to software selection, read this post from our UX Lead, Mark Porter – The Build versus Buy Decision

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