From writing a letter to designing your website, retrieving customer details to processing orders, it's important you get the right business software, support it effectively and train your staff in how to use it.
The business software mix
The way software is licensed means that buying software for your business on an ad-hoc basis is almost always more expensive than planning ahead. Providing support and training for different software packages and versions can also be a headache.
Try to standardise the business software you use. As a rule, it's worth sacrificing some flexibility for the convenience of having everyone use the same version of the same package.
To get the best business software, start by determining your IT requirements. Decide what you want to do with your software, then match each requirement up to specific packages.
Most companies establish a core set of business software which is either installed on each computer or, more commonly, accessed via the web. This ensures everyone in the company is able to perform important tasks and helps you standardise software across your business.
This core business software generally includes:
- operating system software, which allows you to run other programs and access the internet
- an office suite, for working with documents, spreadsheets and email
However, because not everyone in your company is likely to need those packages, evaluate requirements on an individual basis. Establish which people in your business need what packages, then determine the best way to purchase them. There are different licensing options, and choosing the right one for you will depend on the number of users, how much flexibility you require and whether you need additional services such as automatic upgrades (which come as standard with many host web hosted sytems).
If you have really specific business software requirements, you might need to develop custom software. It's expensive and time-consuming, but sometimes the only way to get the software your business needs.
The best business software
Some core business software packages are so common that you could be forgiven for thinking they're the only available option. Where software is very widely used, compatibility and familiarity can be compelling reasons for following the crowd.
However, don't dismiss competing packages altogether. They're often cheaper because they aren't regarded as "the standard". And there's a wealth of free business software to choose from too.
When investing in new business software, make sure it is suitable for the combination of hardware and other software used in your company. Some packages require a particular operating system or a powerful computer.
Sharing data between applications is common, so it may be important to choose software packages which function well together. It might, for example, be easier to share information between two packages if they're both published by the same company.
Managing and upgrading your business software
Business software publishers regularly release small updates to their software to fix bugs and security issues. These updates are usually free, and it's important your business has a system for installing them regularly if you have to do so yourself (web-based packages will do this automatically for you). This is especially important for security-related updates.
All-new versions of business software tend to be released every two to three years. Although it's usually possible to upgrade at a discounted price, it's often a better idea to wait. Major new releases can contain bugs which cause problems, and improvements are often so minor that it's not worth upgrading every time a new version comes out - unless there are significant security updates included.
It is important to make sure you also plan and budget for training whenever you purchase and implement new software. This will ensure you maximise the efficiency of staff using the software and minimise any initial teething problems.