How to choose the right software and avoid the geek speak

Despite working with software developers in Wales for more than 20 years, I’ve never written a line of code. I understand more than when I started, but I still don’t speak fluent ‘geek-speak’.

Our security cleared developers work regularly on government and blue chip projects, as well as on our own software and they leave me gazing in awe as the keyboards whizz. New concepts come easy to them and their brains are lightning fast.

However, I’ve noticed through the years that when IT people start trying to sell, they forget that potential customers often don’t know the buzzwords and are often scared to ask.

Recent research from Deloitte found 84% of UK businesses are seeking to automate their HR processes using cloud based software, and a lot of these decisions are delegated to the HR team, who are highly educated professionals. But like me, they have a limited grasp of technical jargon.

So, how can someone who doesn’t work in IT choose from a multitude of software providers and make the best decision for business? Here’s my advice.

1. Do your research

Setting out exactly what you expect the software to do will pay dividends in the long run.  It’s important to:

1. Speak to other members of the team so that everyone agrees what the software needs to do. This solves problems later on.

2. Once you have agreed specific requirements, tell your potential provider.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you are the customer!

4. If a potential supplier isn’t speaking your language, tell them!

5. If functions need to be added after installation, the costs will almost certainly go up, so make sure everyone is on the same page.

Questions to ask:

1. Is the supplier likely to stay in business – how long have they been trading?

2. How many customers do they have and can they provide testimonials?
3. Do they offer a live demonstration and a free trial (preferably without the need for credit card details).

4. Once everyone has agreed the specification, can they meet all the requirements?

2. Making sure your software is secure and compliant

Anybody with coding skills can write and sell software. A great website and brochure is just marketing, so vet your supplier thoroughly rather than just buying on price.

In some sectors, this is even more vital. For example, HR people handle sensitive information about their staff, which they have a legal and moral obligation to keep safe. Security should be high on your list of priorities, because data breaches cost money.

Supermarket chain Morrisons was recently forced to spend £2M on data protection after an employee leaked sensitive data – as well as facing legal action and adverse publicity.

Things to think about:

Are there specific requirements for your sector?

Public sector employers source software providers on the UK Government’s G-Cloud framework – providers are pre-vetted and trusted to deal with the extra security required by Government organisations.

If a provider is on G-Cloud, you know they will be secure and compliant – so ask if they are on it!

Good software should be competitive, not cheap. After 10 years, I’ve noticed our reputable competitors are similarly priced. The ones who come and go at the cheap end don’t last the distance.

Here are the reasons good software is not cheap: thorough testing, debugging, security, software support, obtaining G-Cloud status, ISO 27001 and ISO9001 accreditation, UK hosting, liability and ensuring you have indemnity insurance – well those things are costly. Remember, a contract alone means little if your software provider has gone out of business.

Questions to ask:

1. Where will the supplier host your data?

2. Do they have any accreditations, like ISO 27001?

3. Are they listed on the G-Cloud?

4. Do they have a disaster recovery plan?

5. How often will your data be backed up?

6. If you leave the provider, or if they go out of business, can you recover your data?

3. Does your idea of training and support match theirs?

Software providers may include training and support, but make sure your provider’s idea of ‘support’ is compatible with yours.

What support do you expect? Multilingual, bilingual, or just English or Welsh?  24 hour, 12 hour or 9-5? Telephone or email?

Set out your expectations clearly. If they can’t meet every requirement as standard, are they able to customise the software or support levels to meet your exact needs? If so, what are the extra costs likely to be?

A reputable provider will not object to you exploring support and training options.

Questions to ask:

1. What are your support hours?

2. What (if any) training is included?

3. Is training online or face to face?

4. What languages do your support team speak?

5. If we wanted more training, could we pay for it?

If you aren’t in IT, choosing software can be intimidating, but by asking the right questions, you can confidently make the right choice.

If your chosen provider is giving you geek-speak, just keep nagging until you understand – because the concepts are easier than they sound. A little persistence beforehand, getting the spec right and choosing a reputable supplier will avoid any hidden surprises long after the glow of a cheap price has faded.

Adrian Lewis is the commercial director for welsh software developers Codel Software and has been advising businesses on how software can best manage HR challenges for more than 10 years. 

Image credit: Jacob Bøtter