As a Business Systems Consultant, I’m often engaged by large enterprises to help guide them through the process of determining business needs, with the end goal of selecting the best system and software applications that will support their organization and their stakeholders.
For startup entrepreneurial ventures, the processes and best practices used by enterprises can also be used to elicit key business requirements, as a basis for selecting a system or software application that will support a new venture’s foundational needs.
Some entrepreneurs, however, begin the process of determining what platforms and supporting applications will meet their needs, by doing a Google search for something like "What are the best accounting applications?”
In return, a list of results, seeded with paid advertisements, are displayed. After weeding through the result list and reading several pseudo-reviews , no real progress has been made to determine the key needs a venture has, that must be fulfilled.
Oftentimes, entrepreneurs do not invest the time and energy needed to research and document foundational business needs, that a system and supporting software application must meet.
Researching and documenting business requirements, while time-consuming, pays-off significantly over the life of a venture. Failing to determine key business requirements at the start of a project, will result in wasted time, energy and money.
So, where to start when thinking about acquiring systems and software to meet business needs?
When beginning the journey to identify candidate applications to meet a need, begin by considering what key business requirements the application will have to fulfill, in order to be considered as a successful match that will meet a set of needs.
As questions are asked and answered, document the responses as draft business requirements. When stated business requirements appear to fall into specific areas of a business (marketing, sales, finance, etc.) begin grouping sets of requirements with the associated business area.
For example, let’s say a stated 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 this question will serve to rule-out an entire category of accounting software applications.
If the primary goal of a 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, sets 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 are of little use and value in the hands of users that lack basic knowledge and understanding of finance and accounting principles.
End users of personal finance applications like Quicken, will need to understand basic accounting and bookkeeping principles. Users of software packages like QuickBooks, will need to have knowledge and experience with double-entry accounting, and many other business operational areas (sales, customer and vendor management, etc.).
Application training and support services enable users to learn and apply best practices and processes, 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, 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, suppliers, 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, expectations and constraints, consider this to be the start of developing an requirement specification.
Does this sound like an significant investment of time and thought? It is.
The time and energy invested in upfront thoughtfulness and research, however, will payoff handsomely later in the selection project. Additional time, energy and money will not be invested post-implementation, to search for (yet another) solution to implement, due to a missed key requirement that was not met.
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.