Worldwide spending on enterprise software—defined as computer software designed to serve the needs of an organization rather than an individual—hit $314 billion in 2014, according to Statista.com. This comes as no surprise when you consider the number of different business needs these solutions were created to solve.
Here are just some of the categories of cloud-based software solutions that companies today rely on, plus some of the more commonly used acronyms:
- Accounting and financial management software
- Business intelligence software
- Business process management
- Content management system (CMS)
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Digital asset management (DAM)
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
- Enterprise asset management (EAM)
- Enterprise work management (EWM)
- Inventory management software
- Master data management (MDM)
- Network management software
- Project management software (PMS)
- Supply chain management (SCM)
The list alone can be bewildering, and it can feel even more overwhelming when you realize that every software solution your company invests in must be managed and maintained. Artificial intelligence has not yet advanced to the point that a computer program can anticipate your business needs and solve them, too.
When it comes to software management, there are four ways to make sure you're putting enough effort in to your solution to reap the level of effectiveness you need.
1. Take Advantage of Training
Many software solutions claim to be intuitive and easy to use right "out of the box." And certainly, ease of use is one feature to look for during the purchase process. But no matter how simple a solution seems to you, every individual will be approaching the software with different assumptions and backgrounds, and someone on your team is bound to find it confusing.
Before you just plug it in and try to hit the ground running, take the time to have an expert walk you through the major features of the product. If there's a video tour, watch it. If in-person training is available, make it mandatory for every team member. And then once you've been using the product for a few weeks, reach back out to your vendor for some follow-up training, so you can customize its features for your organization. You can't manage a product effectively if you don't have a good initial understanding of what it's truly capable of.
2. Manage Your Software (Don't Expect it to Manage You)
In an article for Innovation Insights, Workfront CEO Eric Morgan lists six reasons SaaS deployments fail. One of them? You stopped driving.
When you first started shopping around for a SaaS solution, what you were really looking for was a tool to help you drive change. But if you simply wrote the check and then slid into the passenger seat to see what would happen, don't be surprised if your journey ended right there.
Unless the solution you invested in comes with autopilot mode, you have to put ongoing effort into making the tool work for you. In the work management world, for example, if half of your team members are regularly failing to use the tool to make task requests, update their project status, perform reviews and approvals, collaborate on tasks, or check off completed work, then you won't be gathering the historical data that can be so useful for justifying staff size, requesting new headcount, and right-sizing your workload, among other benefits.
On balance, the amount of time you invest in making a tool work should pay off many times over in efficiencies gained. If this isn't happening for your team, take a step back and evaluate whether the problem is in the tool itself—or your team's commitment to managing it properly.
3. Consolidate Tools
It's important to periodically evaluate all the business tools you're using to see how many of them are accomplishing the same thing in different ways—and whether there's a single solution out there that could consolidate several of them into one.
When Workfront CMO Joe Staples visited five of the company's customers during a 450-mile road trip in 2014, he discovered one thing they all had in common: they were managing too many applications, most overlapping, and nearly all without connections or awareness of the others. His recommendation:
Keep your team's outlay of applications as simple as possible. This often means recognizing and avoiding the temptation to add just one more.
And if you do add one more, make sure it knocks out a few of the ineffective solutions you currently have in place. Trendline Interactive, a full-service email marketing agency, was recently able to eliminate three different functional tools (Basecamp project management, Harvest time tracking, and InVision design tools) through the adoption of one comprehensive work-management solution.
Any time you're shopping for a new business application, make sure it does more than just one thing, and that it has the ability to seamlessly connect to the other essential applications your team uses. For example, if Google Docs are a significant part of your work processes, don't onboard a project management solution unless it plays nicely with Google too.
4. Streamline Workflows
So, you did the training, you're committed to ongoing management of the software, and you've looked for opportunities to consolidate. Now take a look at your workflows. Are your processes seamlessly integrated with the tools you use and automated for maximum productivity? Or are they still patched together, haphazard systems that require intense manual effort?
Even after you onboard an effective tool, you have to purposefully evaluate and design your work processes in a way that leverages its most important features.
Infuse Medical, an agency producing cutting-edge digital solutions for clients, was struggling with manual processes and disconnected systems—including Basecamp, Smartsheets, and email—that led to difficulty tracking tasks, issues, and deliverables. In order to effectively consolidate these functions within the enterprise work management solution they chose (Workfront), the company's processes needed a simultaneous overhaul.
"Although we carefully managed opportunities in Salesforce, our project planning, delivery, and resourcing processes were inconsistent, which meant execution wasn't always smooth," says Bryce Owen, vice president of project management. "By optimizing the flow of work, our teams could spend less time prioritizing tasks and more time collaborating to achieve on-time delivery without scrambling to meet deadlines."
Software Management Matters
You've probably heard the expression, "You can't get more out of a solution than you put into it." Actually, you can and should be able to. Getting more done with less manual work is the whole point. Nevertheless, there's a clear relationship between your effort and a software solution's effectiveness. Make a commitment to initial and ongoing training, continual management of the product, tool consolidation, and workflow optimization, and you'll have a much better chance of seeing the benefits you were promised when you signed on the dotted line.
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