There are so many different applications out there, how do you choose the best app for your business?
What does best even mean?
You can talk to other people, but chances are you’re going to get conflicting answers about which application is the best and about which one is the worst.
Ultimately, no one knows your business better than you do.
How do I choose the right app for my business?
Here are five steps that will help you select and implement the application which is best for your business.
1. Requirements Analysis
The first step in this process should be an analysis of your current workflows. This analysis should identify what is currently working well and what needs improvement.
One way to do this is by running a simulation of your current workflows and business processes with your team. This will not only show you where you can improve but may also help you to identify their pain points (a problem, either real or perceived).
If you don’t have the time to do a simulation, you can also get information by developing a survey. You can choose to make it anonymous or not; there are advantages and disadvantages to both. If your organization is very small, even if the survey is anonymous, you will probably be able to identify the employee based on their responses. Either way, you want your team to be honest with their answers, so you should be very clear about what the survey is for and that there won’t be any repercussions for honesty. Make sure to tell them the purpose is to fix workflows and process failures, not catch people being inefficient.
And a final way to collect data is to observe your employees as they go about their days. What do they spend the most time doing? What data do they need to get their jobs done? What information do you need to bill your clients and understand the costs associated with running your business?
2. Research, Research, Research
With your requirements in hand, it’s time to start researching applications; sites like Capterra are great for giving you a lot of options to evaluate. While you do this, you should also take a look at the applications you’re currently using; you may not be using all the features available and you may not need to invest in something new.
This is the point at which you talk to your peers in your industry about what they’re using and what they like and dislike. Taking your time is essential; if you rush into a decision, you may not be making the right decision for your business. But at the same time, it’s important to recognize that there are no perfect applications out there, so don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Some things to keep in mind as you research:
- Functionality: Do the available features correspond to your requirements?
- Consistency and Integration: Are there integrations available? Do all parts of the application work in the same way?
- Affordability: How much does it cost? Are there license fees? Will you have to invest in additional IT infrastructure?
- Will ongoing support and upgrades cost extra? What about configuration and customization?
- Usability: Is the application straightforward to use? Is extensive training required? What is the skill level of your team?
- Viability of the vendor: What’s the vendor’s history? Are they a start-up or have they been around for a while? Is the application still being developed and updated or has it been sunset?
Be sure that what you select meets your current needs but also gives you room to grow–you don’t want to have to start this process again in a year!
3. Customize and Integrate
Customization and integration are both important things to consider.
If the application you’re looking at only has one way of handling a task or situation, it may not be a good fit for your business. Or conversely, you could take a tool intended for one task and use it for another–the more flexible the application is, the more likely it will work for your business.
Integration is also really important. If your applications don’t talk to each other, then your team will have to do double or triple work–and the goal here is to increase efficiency and productivity, not reduce it!
Another thing integrations can do for you is automate portions of your workflow, which allows your team to focus on your business, not on the process.
4. Get Employee Buy-In
There is nothing worse than spending time, effort, and money on selecting and implementing a new application and then have your team refuse to use it.
Involving key members of your team not only at the beginning but throughout the process can help prevent this from happening. By having a clearly defined process that keeps employees in the loop and requests feedback, you can give them a stake in the successful implementation. They need to understand the benefit of the new tool and what efficiencies you hope will be gained by using it.
Feedback is a two-way street, so check in with your employees frequently during implementation and testing in order to catch any concerns early enough to be able to make changes. Making changes won’t always be possible, but you still want your team to know that you’re listening and that you have heard and understand what they’re telling you.
You’re going to have to train your team on the new application. Some vendors offer training as part of the setup, but many don’t. You’ll need to figure out how you want to handle this. You can hire an outside trainer or you can have one or two of your employees learn the application and develop training materials as it’s being implemented and have them train their peers. The latter is less expensive in terms of money, but just because someone is skilled at using a business tool doesn’t mean they’re good at teaching others to use it. In the long run, you may be better off spending the money on a trainer.
The application should come with some sort of manual, either within the application itself or available on the vendor’s website. Be very wary of applications that require trial and error to learn.
You should also allow for a transition period; while your team is learning the new system, their efficiency and productivity may go down, but once they get used to it, you should see increased productivity and efficiency as well as reduced frustration.
It’s tempting to skip this step, but if you do, you’re not setting your organization up for long-term success. Being thrown into a new system without having an opportunity to learn how it works is terrible for both morale and productivity.
Set Your Business Up For Success
Figuring out what application is best for your growing business is a tremendous amount of work, but it’s also an investment in your business’s future. By honestly assessing your needs, researching potential solutions, integrating the tool with existing applications, and getting your employees on board and trained, you’ll be sure to make an investment that will pay dividends for years to come.