How often do we ask ourselves the question: is it time we changed our software? Maybe we feel its holding back our progress, maybe we are not getting the level of support we expect from our software partner, or perhaps we’ve seen an alternative that we suspect could be better suited to where we want our business to go in the future.
Its very easy to get used to what we have, we live with the shortcomings and make the best of known limitations. If that is the case, then now is as good a time as any to consider the options available. But changes are not without challenges so we need to be sure it’s the right thing to do before moving forward.
In “The hidden costs of switching software providers”, we saw that changing a software partner can have pitfalls for the unwary, a process only to be embarked upon if there are significant benefits for our business, probably coming from an increase in revenue, a reduction in costs, or a combination of the two.
If a move is contemplated then it’s important to understand fully what is involved. By adopting a logical approach due consideration can be given to all aspects of the change, both the upsides and the downsides. Adopting such an approach on regular basis – maybe once every year or two – would be beneficial, essentially a software health check, to confirm what we have is the best for what we need or nudge us into looking more closely at alternatives.
This article is the first of two, covering Step 1 below, that aims to be a rough guide to help ensure that ultimately the right decision is reached.
We will take a close look at the following:
Step 1: Do we really need to change our software partner?
Step 2: Investigating what alternatives exist
Step 3: What are the risks involved?
Step 4: How to choose the most suitable replacement
Do we really need to change software partner?
Probably the first question to ask is: does what we have already really work in the way we need it to? Sounding like a relatively simple question, hopefully it can easily be answered in the affirmative. As already mentioned, it would be good practice to ask this question on a regular basis, remembering that, even if our current software appears to meet all our needs, there may now be an alternative that could add significant value to what we do.
However, more often than not, this question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, and needs to be based on an assessment of a range of issues. If this question has already been asked then its likely that some doubts exist, however small, concerning current software. If this is the case, any issues should first be taken up with the current software partner or IT support, to explore whether or not improvements can be made, processes automated, service levels improved and so on. A second question then may arise: does our current software partner actually have the ability to meet our future needs?
It may be that there are more serious concerns. For example, we are sometimes approached by companies that still use software that, although fit for purpose many years ago, is no longer available or supported. Apart from the obvious – that there are now most probably more efficient tools available that will improve productivity – continuing to use such software, whilst users may be very comfortable, will sooner or later present challenges when it comes to support, recruiting staff with experience in using such software, as well as resistance from new personnel who have used other, more modern software.
Another challenge we see is one where changes are difficult to implement when needed to accommodate different ways of working. A most obvious recent example is the need to work remotely. This has highlighted the limitations of software that has issues with security, maybe is not web-based or does not have a mobile alternative. Others concerns can be that current software is hard if not impossible to integrate with the other tools being used.
To summarise, concerns can arise in a variety of ways including
• Support – lack of skills, speed of response, lack of a good working relationship, value for money, changes in ownership/leadership, etc
• Outdated software
• Staff productivity being impeded
• A lack of reporting/analysis features
• Inefficient manual processes being needed to complete tasks
• Lack of scalability as your organisation grows
• Real time access not being available
• Access by multiple users not possible
• Dependence on multiple spreadsheets, often peculiar to individual members of staff
If such general concerns exist then now is the time to start a more detailed investigation, asking: why might we need to change? The different reasons for change need to be reviewed, these falling roughly under the headings below, necessarily with some overlapping. The more reasons that resonate, the higher the likelihood that it’s time for a change.
Bear in mind however that, in conducting this review, the important thing is not merely to come up with a list of reasons to justify a move but to recognise whether or not a change is necessary in order to enable an organisation to continue competing successfully. How success is defined and the plan to achieve it will in turn determine the specification of the software needed and what needs to be improved in order to deliver that success.
• Obsolescence – the software no longer works properly arising from changes such as hardware having been replaced/upgraded, being able to work only with older versions of operating systems
• Customer needs – does the software support the requirements of existing and potential customers?
• Mobility – highlighted especially in recent months when working remotely has often been a necessity. Without software being web-based or having an adequate mobile version, shortcomings are soon revealed
• Security – also particularly relevant with the growth in remote working, namely inadequate controls, in terms of access, authorisation levels, etc
• Limited scalability – as an organisation grows it may be that the software used is incapable of growing at the same time, for example, in terms of ability to cope with an increasing number of transactions, database size or simply in the number of users. If growth means a move into new markets, will existing software functionality meet the needs of customers in those new markets?
• Outdated – similar to obsolescence, the software may simply not compare to alternatives now available that increase the capabilities of the user
• Integration – the software currently used may not work in conjunction with other software, in turn requiring the duplication of tasks with a significant loss in productivity. This can often be the case where data is stored in separate silos. A simple example is the use of a spreadsheet to store information that cannot be used simultaneously with the software in question without inefficient, manual intervention
• Workflows – in constantly having to adapt methods of working, it may be that the software currently in use no longer suits, or even hinders, new ways of working
There may be pressure to change software partners coming from the organisation level, these include the following:
• Takeover, mergers, disposals and restructuring, including expansion and moving into new markets with different customer needs and numbers
• Cost reduction requirements
• Moves to reduce the number of suppliers to the organisation, and
• Changes to how services are delivered, including in the use of hardware – for example, moving to cloud solutions rather than hosting locally
Lack of information to support effective decision making in today’s fast moving markets is an important driver of change, organisations constantly needing to make improvements in
• the availability of sufficient, accurate and relevant information
• the accessibility of information to all users
• the speed at which information is made available
• limiting the use of unwieldy spreadsheets, that lack audit trails and which can contain hard to detect errors
• lowering the number of manual processes that cause reductions in productivity, and
• the provision of real time access to information
In terms of who provides our software, these can include the following:
• poor/slow/unsatisfactory support
• lack of product development necessary to adapt to changing needs. This may indicate a more fundamental problem, possibly a lack of finance or commitment to support the software, in which case a change becomes more necessary
• changes in management, combined with a lack of a close working relationship
• concerns about value for money, and
• a lack of appropriate skills
System operations encompass the entire area of activities relating to the use of software applications. As such we should consider whether the following are appropriate:
• Business change – is the current position sufficiently flexible to handle future changes that might occur, including for example, a growth in the number of users?
• Speed of response – in a fast moving market can an organisation respond quickly enough to any changes that might occur?
• Inefficiencies – is there duplication of effort, unnecessary manual processing, lack of automation and a difficulty for different applications to work together in order to improve productivity?
• Stability – is age a factor causing a deterioration in reliability or is there a lack of support either through obsolescence or acceptable levels of service?
• Developments – are these available in terms of technology and software functionality and, if so, are they being taken advantage of?
Having explored some of the reasons why a change in software partner might be appropriate, and gained a better understanding of the software currently being used, the next stage will be to look at how to choose and then implement the right software.
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAirShipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.
Contact us for more information or a short demonstration on how CompassAir can benefit your business, and find out how we can help your teams improve collaboration and increase productivity.