Choosing the right software for your business will affect your future, as much as any business decision that you make. CEOs who are product- or sales-oriented need the guidance of their technology-focused colleagues and employees to traverse the minefield of software selection. The purpose of this article is to help you with this important choice.
    Today’s state-of-the-art tile and flooring software is all about complete integration. It’s much more than accounting and point-of-sale - it’s software for your showrooms, outside sales force, and warehouse - and it’s loaded with connectivity to your suppliers, customers, and website. The question, “What software should I buy?” is as much about you as it is about the software. Your goal should be to find software that fits your business and your ability to implement it. You need answers about the software vendors, their software, and about your own business and capabilities.

The Vendor

Does the vendor have customers that you look up to, or are they more like customers that you should leave by the wayside?
    The best way to judge software is by the results. Are the software vendor’s customers successful? Are the software vendor’s customers growing? Are the software vendor’s customers industry leaders? Don’t get lost in the features - a good software salesperson can always impress you with features, but a tile and flooring business can’t fake success. Check out vendors that work with companies you respect.

Does the vendor understand your business or will it be up to you to teach them?
    There is excellent tile and flooring software available, as well as excellent generic software that can be adapted. Make sure you know the difference, and if you choose to adapt software that wasn’t originally intended for your industry, make sure that you understand what it will take to adapt it. Customizing software has the potential to give you unique capabilities. It also has the potential to take your eye off of your business, and overburden even a disciplined tech-savvy company.
    Maintain realistic expectations of a software vendor by carefully looking at the market(s) they’re serving. If most of their customers are in the tile and flooring business, then it’s safe to say that most of their developmental efforts will be in tile and flooring as well. However, if tile and flooring is only a small part of their customer base, then you can bet that it’s a small part of their development and support budget too. Their software may still be good, but you’ll need to be far more self-reliant in terms of training and ongoing enhancements.

Does the vendor sell, but not implement a lot of software?
    Some vendors have excellent “plug-and-play” software, but offer little or no professional implementation services. Others specialize in enterprise-wide software, in which the implementation is as important as the software. Know the skills that you’ll bring to the project, versus the skills you want the vendor to bring. If your company isn’t skilled at implementing software on its own, then make sure you find out as much about the services the vendor offers. Consider both how much software a vendor sells, and the percentage of customers that use the software the way you would like to use it.

Does the vendor have an engineering and sales culture?
    Visit the vendor and see if their people and processes reflect the quality of their software and services. Ask them to show you their latest modules and feature enhancements. Let them show you what they are working on for their future, and yours. Pull back the curtain on their technology to see how they do it. Is their engineering as state-of-the-art as their sales force? The creation of modern, reliable, and integrated software is a feat of creative but disciplined engineering, not gimmicks and wizardry.

The Software

Does the software manage the specifics of your business model?
    Not all tile and flooring businesses are created equally. A single location cut-order retailer needs much less software than a multi-location stocking distributor or retailer. An importer needs modules that a distributor of domestic products doesn’t need. Create a questionnaire for the vendors that list the nuances of your business. Don’t assume that because the software is advertised for tile flooring that it will meet your requirements.

Does the software look and sound like it can manage your business?
    Sometimes a software demonstration can be a confusing experience. Some people are good with the visual part of a software demo, and can easily determine if the screens being presented can be applied to their business. Others are better with the audio part of the demo, and need to hear if the vendor is knowledgeable about their business requirements. However, if you don’t see or hear something that seems like a good solution, then it probably isn’t one.

Does the software have a future?
    Don’t be afraid to ask about the long-term viability of the software. Is the software written using languages, databases, and operating platforms that have reasonable market share, a clear migration path, and the support of reputable manufacturers? Is the vendor financially sound? Are they committed to and capable of moving forward with you and for you?

What is the total cost of ownership of the software?
    First, add up all of the costs - even costs that aren’t part of the software vendor’s proposal. The costs of the servers and software modules are easy to identify. Make sure you calculate the implementation costs, which are usually underestimated, including the training and professional services, as well as the labor necessary for the project.

Is the software compliant with the Flooring Industry B2B Standards?
    The answer to this question is as important for determining a software vendor’s commitment to the tile and flooring industry as it is for determining whether or not their software can transmit information to your suppliers and customers. In order to become “Flooring Industry B2B-compliant,” the committed software companies have invested significant amounts, with little return, over the past four years. Visitwww.flooringb2bstandard.comto view the companies that have made this investment.

Your Business

Do you have the commitment to implement a new system?
    The single most significant precursor of a failed system implementation is management’s lack of involvement or commitment. New systems mean significant change - to comfortable old habits, old procedures, and old thought processes. When management isn’t involved in embracing the changes, a complete disconnect occurs. Employees are left trying to re-create the old ways on the new system, instead of inventing a new and better way. Managers don’t have to be comfortable with technology or change. They need to be willing to be as uncomfortable as everyone else, while the company takes a painful but necessary step forward.

Do you have the right people to implement the new system?
    Systems can’t be successfully implemented on slow days and after hours only. Your best people need to be involved because they know your business, your products, and your customers best. Don’t farm out system implementation to temps. Instead, farm out tasks that can free your best people to do the best possible implementation.

  This article addresses just some of the tough questions you should be asking yourself and prospective software vendors.
    Each year, computers and software provide more benefits to than the previous year. Therefore, you need better and better business skills to take advantage of the software you have and the software you have yet to install.