Therefore, leave nothing to guesswork. Do your homework and shop around. The software you purchase should deliver results, cut costs and be supported by superior service. It’s important to filter through the marketing hype and understand the various feature sets. W ith a multitude of options from which to choose, how to you decide on the best provider for the long term? Just as in marriage, you and your partner will have to work together as one. So ask these 10 key questions before you say “I do.”
1. On what platform is the solution built?
Once upon a time, records storage was simple. But that was before the explosion of technology. With all software, change is inevitable. You can’t expect to use yesterday’s tools to meet the challenges of today and be in business tomorrow. Your software must be flexible.
You need a solution that will stand the test of time, adapt and allow you to grow, one built with industry-standard platforms and languages, such as Microsoft SQL Server and the new .NET technology. It’s your insurance against obsolescence. If a software package uses outdated or inappropriate technology, move on to another candidate.
2. Is technical support included?
Some software companies offer optional support while others build it into your contract. Support is like insurance—it should never be optional. Ensure that support fees are included, so you know exactly what you’re paying for every year and what services you’re entitled to under your agreement.
Ideally, support should include 24-hour assistance, trained technicians, help with installation and ongoing advice. It should also include an up-to-date website with resources such as technical and other updates, tutorials, manuals, data sheets, user meetings/forums, online training, newsletters and responsive account managers. These services help streamline your implementation, upgrade processes and increase the likelihood of your success, with the added benefit of a higher return on investment.
3. What support services are available, and how do they work?
Technology is ever-changing and complex, so ongoing support is just as crucial as the initial purchase. You won’t become an expert in the software overnight, so you need to know there’s help when you need it. If it isn’t available, you risk losing productivity and data—which translates to lost profit. The best software in the world is worthless if it isn’t backed with experienced, round-the-clock support.
Before getting hitched to any software company, determine the kind of service it offers by asking pointed questions:
- Where is your office located? Is on-site assistance possible?
- What hours is technical support available? If there are off hours, what is the standard response time and method?
- What methods can I use to reach the support team—phone, e-mail, live chat, etc.?
- Who answers when I have a question, a software expert or a salesperson?
- W ill your staff understand my questions? Are they familiar with the ins and outs of a records-storage operation?
- What if I have an emergency?
- What about a warranty and scheduled upgrades?
Getting answers to these questions will give you peace of mind, especially in the event of an urgent situation. It’s not a bad idea to contact the support staff several times during the learning process to test service levels for yourself.
Is the software scalable?
Software that is adjustable in design can grow with your business at minimal cost to you. It changes to meet your business needs without becoming outdated or obsolete. Scalability is particularly important for small businesses, because they tend to be dynamic. With record centers averaging more than 10 percent growth per year, this is not a point to be overlooked.
Watch out for software whose various editions are built on different platforms. You need to grow your operation without worrying about new databases, new hardware, data conversion, customization and retraining. In short, any upgrading should be seamless—you shouldn’t have to replace your software as you expand. Remember this motto: Buy your last system first.
Will I be notified about updates and other issues?
Your software needs regular updates. Some providers wait to be contacted by a customer with a problem before notifying him of an available update. Others are more proactive, keeping customers informed of changes and improvements. If your provider has a mailing list for these items, make sure you’re on it. You need to know when each release is due, as well as when you can expect to see the detailed notes to support it.
Did you know all software has bugs? Unfortunately, it’s true. Expect regular release notes from your partner to help you fix as many issues as possible. The more customers using a product, the more likely bugs will be found and rectified. With software, there really is safety in numbers.
How often is the product updated, and what kinds of changes can I expect?
A progressive software company is always enhancing its product. Most new features are derived from customer requests. By asking your supplier about the kinds of improvements it’s implementing, you can better plan for your business.
First, you can notify your customers about changes in advance, minimizing hassles. Second, your records-storage reps can include the new features in their sales presentations to potential customers. Finally, these items will give you an indication of the direction the software company is going. Are the changes relatively minor, or is there a clear strategic path that will help you save or make money?
Does the software help to automate my business?
This may seem like a strange question. All software automates your business, right? Wrong! Although packages may contain similar features, their operation can be fundamentally different. These days, the disparity is most painfully obvious in the area of mobile computing.
Early hand-held devices, known as “data capture” devices, simply collected a list of scanned barcodes. Today, advanced software can turn your hand-held into an extension of your primary software, with intelligence built right in. Live lookups and automatic updates save time previously wasted re-entering data. Automation means you do it once and right the first time, with no risk of lost revenue.
If I have a problem, how quickly can I recover my data?
If you’re in the records-storage business, you’re part of your customers’ disaster-recovery plan. So make sure you can recover from your own catastrophes! The software you use should incorporate the latest database developments, such as up-to-date data recovery.
Older software backs up once a day when all users are off the system (usually in the middle of the night). If you experience a failure, you can restore your system, but you lose any data entered since the backup was made, which can be significant. You need a database that recovers all data right up to the point of the problem. There’s a reason Microsoft introduced SQL Server, and this is just one of them. Data recovery is an essential part of any records-storage software.
Does the software offer advanced features?
Advanced features should be available for all software packages, not only “deluxe” editions. Features to watch for include controllable web access, automatic monitoring, wireless capabilities, signature capture, receipt printing, job scheduling, etc. When you purchase your software, make sure you get all of it.
What do I want the technology to do for me?
Now you’re ready to ask yourself what you want the software to accomplish. What do you want the package to handle? Invoicing? Scheduling? Monitoring and reporting? Remote access? Wireless capabilities? Portable computing? There are countless tasks involved in records management, and each has a software feature designed to handle it. The key is to define your goals and find a solution that covers all your desired functions.
As in most industries, things change quickly in the records-storage business. Your software and supplier need to be flexible. When it comes to new technology or business expansion, your partner should grow with you. If you get satisfactory answers to the above questions, you’re ready to take the relationship to the next level: software demonstrations, and a walk down profit aisle.
Ian Thomas is the vice president of business development for O’Neil Software Inc., which has more than 25 years of experience in providing records-storage software solutions. More than 850 companies in almost 60 countries use its RS-SQL product. For more information, call 949.458.1234; visit www.oneilsoft.com.