I'm often asked to recommend system and software application that will fit a particular need. The conversation usually starts out with something like “What application do you use to manage <some use case>?
In my experience, many entrepreneurs and professionals begin their research with a Google search, entering something like "What are the best accounting applications”?
Search results often list pages of sponsored ads and brief reviews, most of which will not shed any real light on what the best application is for a specific use.
Oftentimes, professionals and organizations do not really have a good handle on what they really need a system or software application to do, i.e. business requirements, in order to meet primary and secondary needs.
When beginning the journey to identify candidate applications to meet a need, a best practice is to begin by considering what key needs the application will have to fulfill, in order to be considered as a successful match that will meet a set of needs.
The process of documenting business requirements can begin by asking a series of key questions, pertaining to the intended use of a new system or software application.
For example, let’s say our project goal is to transition from a current accounting software application to a new application that will better meet current needs. A good question to begin with is: Will the new accounting application primarily be managing a business enterprise, or the needs of an active career professional, or just reporting on an individual’s income, expenses and investments?
The answer to the question will serve to rule-out an entire category of accounting software applications. If the primary goal of our project is to select an accounting application for a business enterprise, this constraint serves to rule-out the category of accounting applications that are intended for personal, non business use.
If the need for an accounting application is to manage personal finance, Intuit's Quicken may be a good accounting application, for Windows 10 users (another constraint). For business use, Intuit's QuickBooks (QB) application may be a consideration. (Selecting QB’s Cloud or Desktop version set additional functional constraints for the business enterprise and it’s users).
Both Quicken and QuickBooks meet the needs of tens of thousands of users worldwide. Whether either of these packages is suitable for a particular organization, business professional, or individual needing to get a better handle on their finances and investments, depends on the answers to many more questions.
The quality and integrity of end-user training and support services often determines the success of a system or software application implementation project. The best accounting applications will be of little use and value in the hands of users that lack basic knowledge and understanding of finance and accounting (F&A) principles.
End users of applications like Quicken, will need to first understand basic accounting and bookkeeping principles. Users of software packages like QuickBooks will need to first gain knowledge and experience with the principles of double-entry accounting and other aspects associated with managing and operating a business enterprise.
Application training and support services enables users to application best practices and processes, that they will need to master in order to gain the most benefit from an application. Application training, support services and reference assets should leverage the benefits offered by multimedia, one-on-one and group live and recorded interactions, illustrated text references, audio recordings and now, virtual reality experiences.
When considering fulfilling needs, it’s important to consider the needs of key partners and other entities (lenders, supplies, partners, etc.) .
Consider institutional interfaces that a candidate application is compatible with, respective of electronic transaction interchanges and interfaces. What internal and external applications will the new accounting application integrate with? Is this an important consideration?
Respective of key players in an enterprise, the needs of support professionals like accountants, need to be considered. What standard and customized reports will accountants and tax preparers need, in order to complete quarterly and annual financial reporting and filing with tax authorities? Will the new software application be able to provide these reports, or will time need to be invested to create custom reports in Excel, based on exported data from the new accounting software?
To determine what the best solutions are that will meet a particular need, keep thinking of, and asking questions surrounding needs and expectations. When you have a collection of Key User Needs and Expectations or User Constraints, consider this to be the start of developing an Application Requirement Specification.
Does this sound like an significant investment of time and thought? It is.
The time and energy you invest in upfront thoughtfulness and research, will payoff handsomely later in the selection project, as you won’t be investing additional time, energy and money in searching for another solution to implement, due to a missed requirement that was not considered.
Remember, it is far less costly to discover new key requirements in the planning and selection phase of a project, as compared to later in the project, when an selected application is being implemented.
Begin your next best application search journey, by asking questions to determine key needs and expectations. The results of engaging this strategy will pay-off in the short and long-term results of the application selection project.