Do investments in technology improve the bottom line for businesses? Unequivocally, yes. However, the speed with which technology can be deployed and the ability of commercial software vendors to meet customer needs in a timely manner often determines the overall success of new software and hardware adoption.
With that in mind, here are a few considerations that must be made when licensing or subscribing new technology solutions.
The “Right” Technology
Making the right technology choices is imperative. Every minute spent implementing a solution translates into lost opportunity, which eventually leads to lost sales, margin and profitability.
So, what is the “right” technology? Obviously, it will solve your specific problem but, more generally, the “right” technology offers:
- Affordability due to low cost architecture: options for hosted and thin client applications.
- Interoperability through extensible integration points.
- Fast speed to market.
- Less customization, more configuration.
- Long-term life cycles, scalable, grows with the business.
When thinking about implementing a new solution, the following questions are key:
- What is the ability to enhance and customize without vendor involvement?
- How are software upgrades managed?
- What is the expected useful life of the platform?
- How flexible are the applications?
Commercialized software offerings should allow customers to quickly extend the core product functions without having to always wait on the vendor. This is successful when vendors choose to deliver solutions to users based on readily available, open-source/open-standards tools.
For example, Jfree and Jasper represent two open source reporting and charting packages. Choice of a default database, such as MySQL, provides immediate database support, but the solutions should also provide customers the ability to select a different database.
Developer SDKs (software development kit) allow customers to extend packaged applications, add new reports and business alerts, support new data sources, and even to add their own customized Web content.
By using Java, the Eclipse IDE, and several other open-source tools, for example, customers wishing to extend their solutions can do so without worrying about losing their investments when upgrades are available.
Not having to wait on the vendor means that a business’ performance is not inherently tied to their IT vendor’s business model. This translates into better focus on — and response to — customer needs.
The Upgrade Path
When choosing software vendors be sure upgrades are made based on your internal, technical needs and not on the vendor’s timeline.
For example, a retailer I know broke their customized applications because a database vendor gave them the choice of upgrading or losing support. This had a cascading impact across different platforms forcing switches of other components, which ended up temporarily breaking application functionality.
Here are a few things you should consider when evaluating software vendors:
- External APIs should never expose or rely on the internal structure of the vendor’s databases.
Look for use of open protocols (SOAP over HTTP, XML interface standards, etc.) for machine-to-machine communication, except in cases where data is directly imported using a pre-existing standard.
- Version-to-version upgrades should always include tools and scripts to support the export of data from one server, translation, and import to another.
In other words, there are no “re-install” upgrades where one in effect re-installs and re-configures the system because of changing tables internally.
- A vendor’s general practice should be to add new functionality by creating new interfaces thereby keeping older interfaces intact for use by systems that do not need the enhanced functionality.
Long-lived software applications require several attributes for success: a growing base of users, stable revenue path for the technology company, and a clean architecture that smoothly evolves over time.
Customers should strongly evaluate all three to ensure the longevity of their acquisitions as the business grows and changes. Flexibility is key. Over time, customer’s needs will change and the solutions deployed must be flexible enough to fit within the future changes a retailer makes.
By ensuring technology choices are scalable, deploy rapidly and provide flexible options, you can quickly implement solutions that allow you to focus on meeting customer demands and less time implementing the solution.
As EVP of Sales & Marketing, Dean Cruse brings over 20 years of strategic marketing expertise with emerging enterprise and Internet software companies to PerformanceRetail. Prior to PerformanceRetail, Cruse was a Venture Fellow at AV Labs, the seed-stage accelerator arm of Austin Ventures, one of the largest and most established venture capital firms in the United States.