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Three areas to consider when evaluating off-the-shelf solutions

For most business and public sector organisations, there are areas where developing ‘bespoke’ or specially-written software is out of the question. In these areas, selecting an off-the-shelf solution is now the only realistic way to access enhanced software capabilities.

Such projects are common but complex and high risk, and can be damaging if they don’t deliver. However, most of the pitfalls are predictable, and you can avoid them by using a systematic, proven, robust approach that recognises the specific opportunities and dangers of this type of project.

3 areas to consider when evaluating off-the-shelf software are discussed below. If you want to learn more about the method and develop your skills in choosing the right solution for your business you might want to have a look at our Choosing COTS: evaluating, selecting and procuring Off-The-Shelf IT Solutions.

 

Collaboration

The project involves more than internal teamwork: it needs collaboration across multiple organisations. Large projects often cut across supply chain boundaries, for instance customers using the new software.

To make a solid, long-lasting decision, selection projects always involve engaging the product expertise of multiple candidate suppliers. Therefore, your normal approaches to project sponsorship, procurement, project management, decision-making, technology management, due diligence and change management all need to be enhanced with specific, relevant techniques and philosophies.

 

Effectiveness

You need a systematic approach specifically targeted to reduce complexity and manage risk, given the selection project’s peculiar combination of technical, commercial, legal and human issues. Your process needs to visibly protect non-technical decision-makers from business or technical complexity.

There should be clear line of sight, in a rational, transparent, auditable process, from requirements through long-listing, detailed evaluations, demonstrations, reference sites and negotiations. Decisions need to be in stages, so both the customer investigation effort and the supplier cost of sale are proportionate, and gather just enough facts to progress to the next stage.

 

Fairness

Internal stakeholders and external suppliers must be confident the process is fair and not biased  towards one department, stakeholder, solution or indeed outcome (for instance, investigations may actually reveal there is no suitable solution off-the-shelf).

Verbal performance assertions by suppliers must have contractual significance. At every stage, solutions must be compared to the same yardstick, reflecting business requirements.

Our method for evaluating, selecting and procuring off-the-shelf software reflects all these needs, delivering a rational, defensible decision within a defined timescale. The method is taught on our public course.

 

If there are specific things you are struggling and need help with we would be happy to have an informal chat with you so feel free to contact us. You can also call us at 020 7272 3726. We can save you time and support you in your process.

 

This article was written by Martin Tate, who teaches the Choosing COTS: evaluating, selecting and procuring Off-The-Shelf IT Solutions – an interactive, practical course.

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