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    September 13, 2016

    Preparing for an Operations Upgrade? 7 Questions Your CTO Will Ask

    No one can underestimate the value of innovation for today’s business operations. Innovating and upgrading often go hand in hand. Thus companies are continually seeking competitive advantage by finding better and better software, hardware, and infrastructure for their operations.

    But before you pull the trigger on that new software package, know this: Your internal IT department will be paying very close attention, because they will likely be the ones to install and maintain the new system. That’s because they know something, won from hard-earned experience: Software that promises the moon for saving time in operations all too often creates more work for the IT team. So, although operations might run more smoothly (eventually), total savings is a wash.

    This means that IT will want to ask many questions about any new software solution. Those challenges will often come from a high-level IT executive—a CTO or VP of technology—whose approval is needed for a purchase to go through. Rarely will this person rubber stamp your selection.

    So that you are not caught by surprise, here are the top seven questions that we here at Infoplus have been asked by IT professionals during purchase and deployment. You should make them a part of your due diligence too:

    1. Whose job will it be to maintain/upgrade the software? The time of an in-house IT staff is carefully choreographed, and so few IT groups have the time and resources to accommodate disruptions. Make sure to specify who will be in charge of maintaining the program and creating the update schedule. (If you are using cloud software, this is much less of an issue, because updates are made to the software in the cloud, usually by the original software company itself.)

    2. What kind of integrations will there be? For example, will a new Warehouse Management System have native integrations for the most common types of shopping cart software, like Magento, Shopify, and WooCommerce? Will it play nicely with the accounting software? How much work will need to be done to get all of these systems working together? Will data flow between them seamlessly, or will there be manual data transfer points?

    3. How is the integration achieved? Is there a data warehouse using ETL? Or does the software use APIs? Which ones, and how can they be accessed?

    4. Can the software be easily customized? And who does the customizing? Few software packages work “straight out of the box.” There is a fair amount of work to be done setting workflows and various parameters and reports. Beyond that, there may be custom features needed for your specific business. How easily can the software be customized? How easy is it to extend its functionality? How easy is it to extract customer reports, or set up special exceptions to a workflow? Finally, how much can be done by you, the purchaser, how much by the software company, and how much by in-house IT?

    5. What can get done on the “front end,” and how often do we need to get into the “back end”? This is tricky. Any software will have one or more dashboards for users to get done the work they need to do on a day-to-day basis. But there will also be times when your IT employees will need to get “under the hood”: Customization, error reporting, and so on. The more that users can do themselves, on the front end, the less strain on your IT department…that is, if the front-end user experience is intuitive enough for anyone to find their way.

    6. What devices does the software support? If you are looking specifically at inventory software or a Warehouse Management System, your IT department will also want to know what difficulties to anticipate when integrating hardware. So ask: What printers, scanners, and barcode readers are supported? (Are the ones your organization uses on that list?) How easy is it to get that hardware connected with the software?

    7. Who can you turn to for support? As much as it pains software companies to say it, service levels differ. Dramatically. What kind of support is offered with your software solution during installation and deployment? What kind of support is offered once you are up and running? What kind of relationship can be counted on with your own internal IT staff? Sometimes, having generous support terms is more important than having the perfect software—but few software solutions are ever perfect, anyway.

    Of course, a given CTO (or other IT professional) might ask more questions, or ask different ones. Hopefully, though, these will give you enough to begin your due diligence and start thinking not only of operations, but of deployment and service.

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