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Good Times: How to Select a Library Automation System, Part 2

By Mark Maslowski

In my first post on this topic, I shared a few guiding principles learned during our history as a preferred library automation and knowledge management application provider. If followed, these will ensure a successful implementation and a fruitful commercial partnership. The first set of factors for consideration was internally focused; in this post I’ll share some suggestions that focus on the external environment, and by the way:

If you’re thinking of building it yourself…beware!
  • Organizations document many failed attempts to build applications themselves. For example, one company spent over 100 person months developing an application before giving up and buying SydneyPLUS software – they were up and running in a week.
  • Often, solutions built in house no longer meet requirements by the time they’re ready to launch. 
  • Internal cost of building an application can be high, and often the solutions aren’t fully documented.
  • There is often no support for enhancements or bug fixes, and given the time to results, the original builder has often left the company by the launch date
Carefully evaluate commercial versus open source products 
  • Purchase price isn’t the same as total cost of ownership (TCO), which includes support and customization costs
  • Open source products have their own inherent costs, often difficult to itemize, anticipate, or estimate
  • Choose between commercial and open source products based on your goals, needs, and your available resources – don’t forget that you do need staff to implement and maintain open source platforms
Consider hosted versus licensed software
  • Vendor hosted software ensures that it will be maintained and upgraded – it’s their responsibility, not yours
  • You’ll always have the latest enhancements and bug fixes
  • Hosted software has minimal impact on your IT infrastructure and staff resources, lowering the TCO and removing complexity
Ask potential vendors what product support and enhancements you’ll receive
  • What support, upgrades and bug fixes are included?
  • What happens to support if you customize?
  • What does the quality of support tell you about the supplier’s attitude toward its customers?
Develop a realistic implementation timeline and share it
If there is an event-based launch date, such as a partner meeting, internal conference etc., make sure that your vendors know about it and can confirm that meeting the date is realistic. When you think about timing, remember to include testing (and time for users to beta test) so that you have worked out any issues prior to launch, and finally, adjust for any events that will impact the schedule, such as holidays, staff PTO etc. Share your preferred kick off date and drop-dead launch date with your potential vendors; if they cannot meet those dates, it should be a non-starter.

Making the final decision
You will have learned a lot during the pre-selection process. It’s important to look, one more time, at your goals and requirements, and to make sure that the products on your short list meet them. As insurance, you should get demos of your favorite two products again, and don’t be shy! Vendors like you to ask questions and fully evaluate their products. (And if the vendors don’t like to help you, do you really want their products?)

You’ll need to contact a few references given you to by the vendor, and in addition to that, you should get informal input by checking listservs and the Internet to see what has been said about the supplier over time.

Go over the pricing and contract terms with a fine toothed comb to make sure there are no surprises after the contract is signed. Make sure to observe your organization’s policy on contract review – involve someone from Procurement or Legal if required. Two sets of eyes are always better than one. Then, make your decision: confidently choose the product that is right for your organization, regardless of whether it’s the marketplace favorite.

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