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Changing software

by editor

As your business grows and evolves your software needs will change too. Changing software is a daunting prospect and not one you can rush into. It can be very time consuming and disruptive, so it is vital you plan well for it.

The first step is research!
The very first step is to dive deep into the processes of your own business. Understand what is working and what needs improving. Consult your staff, ask them where improvements need to be made. Consulting with staff from top to bottom at this early stage will vastly improve your chances of them happily adopting a new system.

Write yourself a list of must-haves and research how those are met with each package. For the most vital processes, such as estimating, try to get a complete understanding of how the software works. Ensure it meets all your needs before you commit.

Look closely at the software specifically designed for your industry, but also look at packages designed for similar industries, ones of those may fit your business better.

Compare your business’s end-to-end processes with how the software works. Yes, you can (and will likely need to) change your processes to fit the software a little, but the closer they match the better.

Look at how you run your business from end-to-end. Where is the software missing? How are you going to plug that gap?

Can you change your processes OR do you need to find additional software to meet that need?

Research how the software will integrate with other software you are using, especially your accounting software. Ideally, they will be API compatible, meaning they are able to ‘talk’ to each other.

Understand the weaknesses of the software. All options will have their pros and cons, the aim is to select software that has more pros for the elements you have identified as most important for your business.

Look into the future and try to predict how the software will support you as your business evolves. Changing software packages is difficult, so try to make sure you’re not going to outgrow the new one in two years.

Trial a short list of software packages in order to thoroughly test their strengths and weaknesses. You can never truly understand software until you use it in the field, so try to do that if possible. It may take you a good chunk of time, but it’s way less time than it will cost you if you select the wrong package.

Focus on the features, not the cost. Of course everyone has a budget, but the software that meets your needs better than all the others will be worth the cost. Each need that is not met will cost you more money through lost time and/or subscribing to additional software to fill the gap. Not to mention the cost of losing frustrated staff.

Step two is to prepare!
Once you have selected the software package you are going with, you need to prepare your staff and your business for the changeover. None of the Estimating and Project Management packages out there allow you to data dump from one to the other (it is not in their best interest to make it easy for you to change) so you will likely need to run two software packages concurrently for a short while.

It is more complicated than flicking a switch, so write an action plan for the changeover. Set out the steps the business will take and get your staff on board with them.

Prepare the staff by speaking openly with them about the changeover and especially the reason for it. The more they understand and agree with the move, the more likely they are to adopt it.

Spend time getting your team to buy into the idea. Everyone needs to be involved. Yes, the key users are most important, but the change will affect everyone.

Invest in training for your staff. Software can be frustrating to use at first, and the easier you make it for people the more likely they are to adopt it. A cost-effective way is to train key staff and get them to guide the rest. The worst thing you can do is dump the new software on them and ask them to fend for themselves. I’ve been there and it is not fun!

Step three is integrating!
Integrate the software into the business as you have set out in the action plan.

An all-in approach can be problematic and disruptive. A good option is to roll it out in one department at a time, or with one team at a time. Start small and push it through the business as your confidence and understanding of it grows.

It often takes time to change over, with a backlog of jobs in the old system, so changing over slowly on a job-by-job basis may take more time, but it is often the less disruptive option.

You will need to rewrite and reimagine your policies and procedures, updating them to fit the new way things are done in the new software. This exercise is a really good way for you to look at the software through a microscope, allowing you to pick up problems early.

Over time (the shorter the better, but don’t rush it) the whole business will be running smoothly in the new system, and you will reap the benefits.

Switching software is hard work, but if your current software is not meeting your needs then you need to do it asap. Construction software has seen massive improvements in the last five years, so unless your software is keeping up with the times, there’s a big chance something else would save you a tonne of money, time and frustration. Don’t let the points above turn you off moving, don’t let them delay you. Instead, understand that yes, the move is going to suck, but the short-term pain will have huge long-term gains!

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