Project Description

With no shortage of software companies in today’s arena vying for retail and consumer goods companies’ business, having a strategic approach to software selection is more imperative now than ever before.

Whether through mergers, acquisitions, or their own R&D departments, technology companies are developing new functionality to solve today’s most complex challenges across planning, merchandising, category management, supply chain, point of sale (POS), omnichannel, product development, analytics, and more. These focuses come in many shapes and sizes, and the vendor landscape changes frequently. The process of developing requirements and narrowing down the vendor list to what best fits your company’s needs and budget can become a daunting and cumbersome task.

A Strategic Approach to Software Selection

Further, with new developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, and a plethora of new omnichannel innovations, it is easy for a software selection project to get side-tracked by these more “shiny objects.”  So how do you choose the right software partner and solution? How do you ensure the right candidates are identified, an appropriate comparison is made, and your internal team takes the right steps to reach the best decision?

In this point of view, we discuss five key tenets that are part of Parker Avery’s strategic approach to software selection that will ensure the new technology supports your desired business capabilities.

Form the best team of decision makers

Ensuring the internal business selection team is sized and resourced correctly for the task is paramount. You also want to ensure that all the stakeholders that should have input are given the chance to express their views. As part of the selection process, the Parker Avery team takes the time to interview cross-functional stakeholders to ensure we know the needs of the business and confirm the project team is on track before building requirements documentation. The team needs to clearly understand the vision of the company and the goal of the project. Each team member needs to understand their role and expectations before starting the process, and their skillsets should directly relate to and support the objective. This will enable the team to make quick decisions and support the overall process on time and within budget.

Clearly define and prioritize your business requirements

What do you want the software to do? Does it stand alone or does it have to play well with others? Having a clear roadmap to what capabilities are required is critical to keeping the team focused and quickly narrowing down the search for vendors. No vendors are going to meet all the requirements and some will only meet half or less. You may start out thinking the process will take months to accomplish, but once you identify the key capabilities that are needed to fit your needs, the timelines and vendors to consider should become clear. Experience in the industry and in the functional area will help you narrow down the potential software landscape to a reasonable list. We typically recommend 3-5 vendors at most, so the selection can be done in an appropriate time frame.

Also, remember not all requirements and software are created equal. Many vendors offer similar overall capabilities, but the strength and ease of use within those capabilities may differ substantially. So depending on how you prioritize the requirements, the vendor choices and rankings may change. This point is the key to our approach. We take the time to understand the requirements and needs before developing any requests for information (RFIs) or demonstrations from vendors. This can save time and ensures that the requirements drive the vendor RFI or RFP documents and demo process.

Stick to the facts

During a selection process you will most likely have members of the team with experience or relationships with a particular software vendor. The important thing to remember is not to let those experiences or relationships drive the process, but rather influence it. Development of unbiased methods such as a scoring tool can help this activity.

As part of the Parker Avery process, we develop selection criteria to evaluate the vendors during the requirements process, which leads to identifying vendors that can deliver the needs of the business based on pure capabilities. We then create scoring tools to help each member of the project team evaluate the vendors as we move through the demo process. We recommend the scoring at this phase to be weighted based on prioritization and can be referenced as a red, yellow, green light approach to keep it simple. Indeed, there are different ways to approach scoring, but as long as you stick to the facts the vendor choice typically becomes clear.

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Prepare your vendors

Does a vendor really need to be prepped? Absolutely! The last thing you want is a software vendor coming in for system demonstrations talking about groceries when you’re an apparel manufacturer. Make sure your vendor is “client ready” and aligned to the correct area of business. The overall process has to be relatable and give the selection team a good view of “a day in the life” for their business.

Another key part of Parker Avery’s approach is to give the vendor a high-level view of your business process so that it can be incorporated into the demo. By doing this the users can see how they may use it, and it keeps them engaged and asking questions. Also, make sure the vendor stays away from their PowerPoint presentations and gets to the actual product. After all, that’s what you’re there to see. Giving the vendors adequate time to prepare and deliver in combination with proper direction will be instrumental in the demonstration and selection process.

Prepare your team to make a decision

How do you prepare your team to score and decide? Prior to any vendor presentation it is a good practice to familiarize the team, both business and IT, with what they should be looking for during a vendor presentation and familiarizing them with the scoring tools and approach. The team should have clear direction on what is expected during the process and what the steps will be to get to a decision point. Taking the time to review the timeline and expectations helps the decision makers absorb the information and come out of each vendor demo with a point of view. It is a good idea to do a team recap after each vendor session to ensure everyone saw and heard the same thing. This will help keep them aligned and help ensure they are not getting distracted by the shiny object in the room.

Final Word

Every software selection can come with challenges, but if you are diligent about choosing the right team, have clear direction, and prepare both your internal and external partners appropriately, you will have a solid chance at a successful selection process and software vendor partnership.

Recommended Reading

Considerations for Remote Software Selection Projects

Considerations for Remote Software Selection Projects

Retail System Selection

Retail System Selection

7 Tips for Solution Demonstration Success

7 Tips for Solution Demonstration Success

Robert Kaufman, CEO

Robert Kaufman
Chief Executive Officer

Amanda Astrologo, Partner

The Parker Avery Group is a leading retail and consumer goods consulting firm that transforms organizations and optimizes operational execution through development of competitive strategies, business process design, deep analytics expertise, change management leadership, and implementation of solutions that enable key capabilities.


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