How to Choose and Use Business Software

I don’t really like the term “business software”. I’m really talking about service desk tools and knowledge management products, but there isn’t an appropriate collective noun for those specific things so I’ll just lump it all in with MYOB. Do you have a preferred collective noun? Leave it in the comments.

There’s a whole slew of software options out there for getting your job done. Here are some tips to help you choose what might be right for you.

  • Talk to other people in your line of work to find out what they use. If you don’t know anyone, post the question on a relevant LinkedIn group.
  • Start researching the vendors’ websites to find out the features and benefits of the products, the prices, and the support methods. Obvious constraints like pricing might help to narrow the field.
  • Consider whether you want to host the software yourself or outsource that by choosing a SaaS product.
  • Your tools need to be easy to use and the only way you’ll know for sure is by trialling the software. Some SaaS vendors have full-featured online versions with demo content, some have free versions with limited features. Speak to the vendors on your list to organise something.
  • Assess the requirements your business specifically has. If you want to be able to upload video to the knowledge base for example, or as an attachment to an incident ticket, then you’ll have to find a tool that allows you to do that.
  • On the flipside of that, don’t pay for features you don’t need, if you don’t have to. Find a vendor that lets you pick and pay for the modules you want.
  • Be clear with the vendor on what you actually want to achieve with their product. They may tell you it’s not the right fit—better to find out before spending all that money.
  • Once you have your chosen tool installed, milk the vendor for all their worth. Use every minute of the “free” consultation and installation time. Ask them for documentation and if they have some sort of user community you can access.
  • READ the documentation. Yes, you are responsible for that bit.
  • If you feel you aren’t making the best use of the tool, go back to the vendor and ask for assistance. It took me three years to realise I had to turn full-text search on in my SQL server for the particular tool I was using at the time, to be most effective. As soon as I did that, we discovered a whole lot of awesome right in front of us, that we’d been missing out on. User communities can be a great help here, too. If you need to pay for a day’s worth of consultation from the vendor to steer you back on course, consider it. Though, I think vendors should feel morally obligated to ensure you’re using their product properly, without charging extra for it.

Here’s my advice to vendors:

  • Don’t be just another bunch of tools. If there’s a feature you consider integral to the use of your software, ensure the feature is turned on by default, out of the box. Or include it as an installation step, if it’s something they need to do on their side. Don’t expect your customers to work it out for themselves.
  • Handing over some well-written how-to documentation is a start, but stay in regular, proactive contact with your customers. Send them an email newsletter with screenshots and how-tos for implementing particular features that they may not be using effectively; write blog posts or Facebook updates with the same sort of advice. Consider creating screencasts to help those who need something more visual. It’s helpful for them and effective, indirect marketing for you.

Here’s a great post specific to choosing knowledge management tools. And here’s a link to a list of ITSM tools.

  • Choosing the right business software is vital for the success of the company. Visiting a software store can help you decide which one is appropriate for your business. Talk with the people on hand and ask their professional advice on the matter. This is going to be helpful since learning hands-on regarding the interface would let you know if the software is easy to use.

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