In our role as cloud software implementers and support providers for small to medium enterprises, we frequently have to evaluate which cloud software is most appropriate for our Tool Kit.
When it comes to selecting which cloud applications to use, there's some tried and tested basics that you may find helpful.
1. Check you are ready
Get clear about why this is being done. If you find yourself saying, 'Oh, it's because it's what all the cool kids are doing', that's not the best place to be coming at this change process from. There needs to be some level of pain, something that is costing you or your staff in time, money and/or sanity.
Being able to access something on your smartphone, or a cool dashboard with customisable widgets, aren't good enough reasons to adopt a new piece of software, which will largely define parts of your company process moving into the future.
The whole team need to be onboard - and this doesn't just mean the people who are making the decision, or even the people who will be the end users of the cloud applications.
Ensure that everyone agrees a change needs to be made, and are clear about what the changes will entail for the business and themselves. Without buy-in, there will be hiccups, misunderstandings, and frustrations when the change has some level of impact on day-to-day activities.
As you work through this adoption process, bear in mind that you may be confronted with scenarios where the application doesn't exactly match your process - at that point, you either need to look at selecting another piece of software, or amending your process.
Yes, you may be only paying a small monthly subscription instead of spending thousands on licences for desktop software, but there will also be associated cost with the change.
There's the cost of evaluating which software to use and planning, the actual time spent getting everything set up, and some degree of disruption to your business in the short term. A great deal of that cost is made up of staff time, or you may elect to have a specialist company (such as us) set things up for you.
You need to ensure you are allowing enough cash and staff time to do the job justice. Otherwise far greater costs will be incurred over time using or replacing a poorly set up system.
2. Identify the business requirements
Get clear about this down to some of the specifics. You may say, quoting, invoicing and account receivable - which is great but actually implies more than one application. Discovering this mid-project may disrupt your carefully made plans.
Establish exactly which processes are going to be managed via cloud software moving forward. Once you have done that, it's really important to name them - using standard industry terminology.
There's no sense looking for a 'Product Management Application', when what you actually want is 'Cloud Inventory Management'.
'Users' is an impersonal term, so think about the actual people who will be using their software - they are more than just robots who will be clicking a series of buttons. What are their requirements when to perform their job smoothly and efficiently, what are their technical abilities and, perhaps most importantly, what support will they need to adopt the new cloud application.
You should also consider their understanding of the underlying business processes which are being streamlined. If they don't understand the 'Why', it is more difficult for them to understand the 'How'.
Once you are clear about who will be using the applications, you can start to think about the functional tasks they need to perform. There's no need to go as far as actually graphically mapping the processes, but if you are happy to go this far or you have complex processes then it's an exercise that will be valuable.
List the key features in a spreadsheet. Try to be comprehensive and capture all the variations that may exist. For example, let's say we're talking about invoicing in a consulting business. There may be some times where you charge based on fixed price quotes, other times when you charge actual time and materials, and so on.
This may seem obvious, but define the data you need to capture within the processes you are streamline - in detail.
We frequently run into scenarios where businesses find they can't capture information that is vital to their business. Generally there are ways to deal with this, but it's important to be aware of them before the fact, not after.
We're not talking about your intelligence, we're talking about the metrics and reporting that you need to evaluate your business operations. This could be stock movements, profit and loss, lead conversion rates, and so on.
One of the strengths of cloud applications is their reporting - generally speaking, a lot of attention goes into this area, but not always. Think about the information that different people need to see - obviously, the reporting or metrics requirements are likely to differ between governance and operational stakeholders.
Also bear in mind that if you are using multiple cloud applications, you may need to slice and dice the data between them to gain some real insights. So before you go too far down the adoption process, consider how that might work. Will you need to download some data and build your own custom reports? If so, ensure you can export all the data you will need to do this, for example, the custom fields we mentioned above.
3. Short list various applications
Remember how we said to identify the standard term used for the type of cloud application? This is where it is important. Plug that term in to Google, and look at as many of the results as possible.
Read blogs and articles, watch introductory or How-To videos, check out reviews and recommendations - the more the better at this stage. Set up free trials and click buttons - this will give you a far better sense of how the application works than simply reading information and marketing information.
If you would like access to trial account that is pre-populated with data relevant to your industry, all you have to do is let us know.
We recommend doing this general search and information gathering before you start short-listing and actually evaluating the detailed features of each application. It's really easy to miss applications without a general search first - spread your net wide and don't just check the first page results, dig deeper than that - probably the first 2-3 Google results pages is optimal.
Don't just rely on Google - talk to people who may have some experience in this area. Perhaps other similar businesses that you know, or your advisers such as your accountant. Or, and this is another shameless plug, you can always talk to us.
Now you can start short-listing the applications that you think will suit you best, again without reviewing all of the features in depth. This ought to give you a list that is best suited to your business. It's just a filtering step - remember, if you can't find the right fit on your short-list you can expand the search.
Using this short-list, add the name of each application to your spreadsheet as columns against each key feature. Then start reviewing each application in more depth, and check whether the features you need are available. You may like to simply mark Yes/No, add some 1-10 ratings, or add notes and caveats that may exist.
Bear in mind that some features may be Must Haves, and others might be Nice To Haves - take this into account.
While integration is probably going to be a feature you evaluate in the process above, we wanted to cover it separately also. When we say 'integration', we're talking about how this application works with other applications you may have - either now, or in the future. Many times businesses don't just use a single piece of software, and one of the great benefits of cloud applications is their ability to share data backwards and forwards with other applications at points where processes interact.
This can have massive time saving benefits, but you need to check that the integration will actually do what you want it to - just because an integration exists, it doesn't mean it will operate in a way that exactly mirrors your processes or the data you expect it to.
Additionally, you want to avoid having your data in 'silos', where it is difficult to access. This is important for two reasons, partly as a general time saver, and also when it comes to reporting and metrics.
If in doubt about how an integration works, reach out to the support team.
4. Make a decision
Based on all of the information gathering you have done, you should now be in a position to make a fairly well informed decision - well done! It is rare to find a piece of software that does everything you need exactly the way you need it to, so there may be sacrifices to make, but at least you have maximised the chances of knowing about these before the fact.
Software of any type is best at following defined processes - the more variations that exist, the more difficult it will be to find an application that suits and then adopt it. Remember that to cope with variation software must be flexible, and with that flexibility comes complexity - in set up and use.
5. Make a plan
This justifies a blog post in its own right - and here it is - and is extremely important obviously. A well selected cloud application that is poorly implemented, or where the change process isn't managed properly, can have quite serious effects - literally costing thousands in business disruption. At the same time, a piece of software that isn't perfect but has been set up well and easily adopted, can still have significant benefits. So have a plan - whatever that looks like, it can't do anything but help.
Best of luck with selecting and adopting a new cloud application! Our business is built on planning cloud application change programmes, so if we can help we're happy to have a free one hour discovery meeting with you.