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3 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Software

By October 20, 2016 9 Comments

Like most parents of toddlers, our home is a minefield of miscellaneous toys and trinkets. On any given day, you might find a Barbie Corvette parked on our coffee table, a bevy of stuffed animals comfortably nestled in my favorite rocking chair, or a collection of books strewn across our kitchen table. Our home is unique in that it has the capability to spontaneously generate toys (at least, I can't come to any other reasonable conclusion). Just days after a take-no-prisoners-style purge, our floors are once again buried in Hot Wheels, baby dolls and the various pillow-based structures in which my daughter houses them.

What used to be our living room. This is what used to be our living room.

In the aftermath of our purges, I wonder what sets the winners (the toys my daughter adamantly insists on keeping) from the losers (the ones we give away or sell). She didn't bat an eye when I packed up an expensive computer game, but when I threatened to throw away a toy plunger (another spontaneously generated item), we experienced a full-blown hissy fit.

You can't expect toddlers to be rational, so I understand that there is no rhyme or reason to her preferences in toys. When it comes to software, we grown-ups can be just as fickle as our temperamental offspring. There are some applications we just don't like, and in turn we never end up "playing" with them. This comparison brings me to the first question you should ask when evaluating new software:

1. Will your employees actually use the software?

In some cases, we use software we don't particularly like. If the tool is mission-critical to the operations of your business, you don't have a choice unless you can find and/or afford a better replacement. Maybe it's your billing software, or your EHR system. You might not love it, but you still have to use it.

In other cases, software tools are brought in to enhance efficiencies, communication or profitability. A simple example is an Instant Messaging tool. At Nexxtep, we used several platforms before choosing Slack. The predecessors were clunky, and not nearly as useful, in comparison.  Slack allows us to create "channels" for different projects and divisions of the company. You can use the channels to collaborate with coworkers, or just to drop in and see what others are working on. We even use a recognition program in Slack called "Hey Taco" that we use to give kudos to each other in the form of taco emoji.

heytaco__for_slack It sounds silly, but these adorable little tacos have noticeably improved morale.


Slack has turned out to be one of the most-used tools at Nexxtep, but that hasn't always been the case with new software. If an application is not easy to use or employees aren't well-trained on how to use it, it will end up like my daughter's fancy computer game: ignored and discarded without a second thought.

2. Will it save you time or money?

Software costs add up. If you're paying for tools that don't have a positive impact on your bottom line, it may be time to trim the fat. An example that might apply here is project management software. If your project management tool doesn't integrate with your time and billing software, will you spend unnecessary time re-keying customer information in several platforms? In total, does the value of the software make up for the extra time spent re-entering data? If it does not, it might be time to find another project management tool or invest in a custom integration.

3. Will it make you money?

The most obvious example I can think of software that is intended to make a business money is marketing software. These range from smaller solutions geared toward a niche like social media or email marketing, to larger solutions that encompass a range of marketing activities in a single platform. Either way, I have often seen the potential of these tools go to waste. If you don't have time to use them, or don't hire someone who manage them for you, you'll be wasting your money. On the other hand, when used properly, marketing tools consistently prove their value through measurable results.  Case in point: 72% of HubSpot users see an increase in revenue after one year.

In the age of SaaS (software as a service), decisions about company software can be compulsive. When you're not locked into a large investment, and you can cancel any time, signing up for new tools feels easy and painless. But much like the sports or movie packages in your cable TV subscription, these costs can sneak up on you over time. Think critically about the new tools you're evaluating for your business, and be sure to review your subscriptions every six months or so to ensure you're not paying for something you're not using. Oftentimes, the best course of action might not be to cancel a service but to invest some time into training yourself and your employees on how to make the most of it.

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