How to streamline your software selection sequence – TechRepublic | Hot Mobile Press

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

A search for software begins with a general need. Maybe you need an app to track clients, collaborate with colleagues, create a presentation, monitor weather forecasts, or do your accounting. In each of these areas, most people may be able to quickly identify widely used, well-known apps.

But in my experience, too often, software selection starts with a focus on a long list of features. In many cases I think this is a mistake. A better approach is to make a short list of apps you already know, and then follow the steps below to first expand and then trim your list. During the expansion process, you look for systems that you may not be familiar with that may be viable candidates. During the trimming process, you eliminate apps that aren’t well-maintained or aren’t from credible companies. Only then do you delve into the product details.

How to optimize your software selection sequence

Look for solutions

A web search — or more accurately, a series of web searches — can help you identify potential software solutions. Make sure you use keywords, group keywords in quotes, and then refine your results by removing results that contain phrases you don’t need. It’s an iterative process, but when done well, it helps you refine the outcomes you seek.

SEE: How to get better search results on Google (TechRepublic)

But once you’ve identified a few potential providers and apps, I suggest you search mobile app stores as well. When working with organizations, I prefer vendors that offer both Android and Apple apps. That means I turn to the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store and look for vendor apps in both stores. When providers offer mobile apps in both stores, it is a strong signal that the provider is at least of a certain size.

When I compare apps from different providers, I tend not only to look at the number of downloads, which indicates popularity and market reach, but also at the app rating, which is at least a general indicator of user satisfaction with the app. Some rankings can be affected by incorrect ratings or bugs only found in early releases of an app. In general, however, download counts and ratings provide a quick way to eliminate apps that are rarely downloaded and poorly rated.

System and platform specific app stores can also be helpful. For example, people in organizations using Google Workspace could explore the Google Workspace Marketplace. Do you use Salesforce? Try the Salesforce App Store. you have the idea Apps listed in a store provided by a platform you use are more likely to work well with the app you’re already using. Often such systems support single sign-on and some level of integration with your chosen platform.

App stores also often display related apps, such as For example, the “You may also like” section in the App Store or the “Related Apps” section in the Google Play Store. Apps listed in these sections are sometimes excellent alternatives that you may want to explore.

check updates

Identify recent changes made to the app, either by reviewing release notes and dates for the mobile apps, or reviewing publicly posted changelogs or blogs. For example, look at version history data in Apple’s App Store or the About This App | page on Updated on Date in Google Play. This helps you identify apps that are not actively being developed. If an app hasn’t been updated for a year or more, I consider it no longer in active development. Is it possible that the software is perfect and no changes were needed? Yes. Is that likely? no

For an extra layer of review, look for public product plans and upcoming updates. Sometimes a vendor provides a public release calendar with future features. In other cases, changes can be previewed as part of a conference or client meeting. The level of detail of forthcoming changes varies widely, but all other things being roughly the same, I would strongly prefer working with a vendor that publishes plans over a vendor that does not disclose a future development path.

Give preference to public figures

A surprising number of software vendors choose to publish little or no information about the people behind the product. I much prefer using corporate systems that provide real people, photos, names, titles, bios, and contact information.

I also have a liking for software and systems from organizations and people who are actively involved in social media. This type of presence and activity usually indicates a company that is either large enough to have employees on the job or a culture of community involvement. Both are positive signs from my point of view. Whether people participate on Twitter, LinkedIn, blog posts, or Reddit doesn’t matter. What matters is that the company provides information, responds to customer inquiries, and engages with current and potential customers.

Consider the cost

A published price list usually strengthens my trust in a company: I can estimate what something might cost. Anyone who has ever searched company prices for software knows that many companies offer a form and invite you to contact a seller for a quote. It’s a pre-cloud tactic aimed at maximizing revenue for the business. Companies will suggest making sure you have the right solution for your needs. That may be so, but failure to provide any type of public pricing advice diminishes my confidence in your organization.

I’m not suggesting that you need a full estimate or quote at this point. Instead, just take a few minutes to figure out how much a system might cost for your usage scenario. An estimate is fine. A reliable vendor that publishes prices will at least provide enough evidence to tell you that a system costs $10/month per person, not $1,000/month per person.

evaluate properties

If a system passes all of the previous four ratings, at least you know you have a system worth considering. Next, move on to the detailed assessment phase, where too many people often begin. At this point, you should use standard evaluation techniques to ensure the system is doing what you need it to do, in a workflow you like, and will work with the devices and systems you are using. As usual, don’t trust feature checklists. Make sure things work the way you expect them to.

However, be open to different ways of working as your mental model of how things should work may not be how a vendor solves a problem. For example, for years I met people who were used to sending files via email. It took some explaining to convey that you can use a share button to give people access to a group of people at once, rather than emailing an attachment, so that each person on a team has their own copy of a file. Similar issues arise with workflows where you have access to revise a process. This process of choosing a different system is a chance to consider a different way of working.

What is your experience with the software selection?

In my experience, too many people jump straight to feature ratings. It’s of great value: go through the first four steps very quickly, however, as each of these steps will help you eliminate systems that don’t work with existing systems, aren’t updated, or aren’t open and transparent to either people or pricing.

What simple software and vendor screening techniques do you use? Is there a specific signal you’re looking for that, if any, indicates that you should consider a system – or not? Did any of the above tips help you make an effective software choice?

If you have any software selection tips or techniques, let me know either with a mention or a direct message on Twitter (@awolber).

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