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When associations need to overhaul their technology, the decision to buy or build software is a complicated one. Organizations that choose to buy should be wary of vendors who claim to sell an off-the-shelf product, but actually sell a custom solution. This is termed “consultingware” and typically leads to an incomplete solution, specifically designed to require customization services and nearly impossible to upgrade without substantial cost. Here are a few questions to ask to avoid falling victim to consultingware:
1. Will the solution require a lot of customization? Consultingware relies on continued customization services. If an organization cannot afford to, or chooses not to, continually revisit this customized software system, the result is obsolescence of the product over time. Software companies try to minimize the amount of consulting service required, and maximize their customers’ initial software investments by protecting upgrade paths.
2. What is the organizational structure of the company? Ask for the company’s organization chart and look for differences in its approach. Software companies will have a technical organization with developers, writers and product planners separate from implementation staff and customers. Consultingware companies often rely on programmers to work at each customer site.
3. What will implementation be like? Ask for the detailed steps, and how long it will take for the system to be operational. One advantage of real software is the speed of installation, since the software is already written. Consultingware vendors rely on a “build to suit” model; they send business analysts to the site to develop a design specification, similar to a product plan.
4. What user support is available? Ask for a complete, up-to-date set of documentation for all applications, and the company’s release notes, which are a historical record of documents describing this progression. Check for a customer support website. The lack of one might indicate the product is not real or cannot be upgraded.
Selecting a software solution is one of the biggest professional decisions an association makes. A little due diligence up front will make the difference between a truly upgradeable software solution that will grow with the organization’s needs, and a long-term commitment with a company that’s constantly bolting on new functionality to a patchwork quilt that never quite fits expectations or budget.
Alves is president of Advanced Solutions Interantional, McLean VA. Details: www.advsol.com.