Software products, like fruits and vegetables, have a limited shelf life. Virtually all applications eventually fall victim to new technologies, fresh business approaches and evolving user needs.
Knowing exactly when it's time to bid farewell to a familiar and trusted software tool in favor of a shiny, new offering can be a tough decision. After all, replacing essential software is a daunting task, typically requiring significant amounts of time, effort and money.
Nonetheless, there comes a point when businesses must stop and re-evaluate their software tools.
For organizations considering adopting fresh products, Charles King, principal analyst at IT research firm Pund-IT, firmly believes in the value of performing regular software assessments.
"This should include a detailed overview of the applications in use, including the number and duration of licenses," he says.
Management also needs to understand how — and how well — those applications benefit their operations. "The last thing any company needs are useless or zombie applications tapping into their lifeblood," King says.
From there, determining software cost is relatively simple, says Scott Bickley, senior director of Info-Tech Research Group's vendor advisory practice. He points to quantifiable licensing costs, such as perpetual or recurring subscriptions, maintenance and support.
Yet those numbers represent only the tip of the iceberg: "What lies beneath the surface are costs that can easily equal or end up as multiples of the initial license costs," Bickley says.
Those expenses are often related to implementation, integration with legacy systems and data quality and management requirements, he says.
Besides considering costs, organizations evaluating replacement software should think about their long-term needs, says Jacob Whitver, senior director of engineering for DRIVIN, a company that helps used-car dealers find and buy the right vehicles.
"If you evaluate a technology based only on what you need now, that technology most likely won't fit the needs right around the corner," he says.
Whitver also warns against choosing a new technology just because it is new. "Sometimes, it seems easier to greenfield a project when, actually, the costs of changing an existing product could be more efficient and cheaper overall," he says.
To help organizations avoid missteps when evaluating software, Susan Luu, senior vice president of business improvement for Junior Achievement USA, recommends defining a functionality wish list up front.
"If the core needs are not defined clearly and used throughout the evaluation process, organizations can fall into a trap of getting excited about excess functionality in software packages that they never needed to begin with," she explains. "In the end, if the software is too cumbersome or complex, it will only turn users off from using it."
According to Luu, communication plays a key role making sure software meets the needs of everyone involved.
"At Junior Achievement, we follow a basic process that engages IT staff and business owners equally in the conversation," Luu says. "IT serves as the facilitator of a process and does not dictate the final decisions."
Pund-IT analyst King agrees that communicating with line-of-business personnel is essential but also recommends that IT and management collaborate closely to ensure software products align with long-term strategies.
"There are certainly terrific tools — lifecycle management solutions — that organizations can use in this process,” he says, “but nothing beats clear communication between leadership and IT.”