Friday, February 28, 2014

When Purchasing Software, Consider What Support Is Included

In this economy, businesses are frequently on tight budgets, and purchasing the right software can be an enormous help for the small business owner. There are so many different programs to help with accounting, customer relationship management, e-commerce, marketing, project management, social networking, and many other essential tasks. Finding a user-friendly program can save you the expense of hiring expensive outside consultants or part-time personnel and can streamline operations considerable. But the wrong software often comes with headaches and hidden expenses that can break the bank.

Nearly everyone has experienced the frustrations of a program that doesn't work the way it's supposed to. Some of this may be user error, but what if the software you purchased is difficult to install, doesn't work well with your operating system, crashes frequently, doesn't sync with other software it's supposed to rely upon, fails to back up or accurately produce data, or any other variant of "doesn't work"? While an owner may be able to get a refund for the software itself, can he afford to recoup what using the software cost his business?

These types of problems are why it is so important for business owners to know what they are purchasing before the purchase, either by consulting with other users or thoroughly reading reviews, or relying on a reputable VAR (Value Added Reseller) for their software needs. Much has been made of saving money by "eliminating the middle man," but when dealing with software, the middle man may not be so expendable. It's true, many types of software are designed for easy installation and use. There is no point to go through a software vendor to purchase Microsoft Office or install SugarSync on a laptop, but if your business needs complex engineering software to run simulations or your medical practice requires HIPAA-compliant management software for billing, scheduling, and record keeping, a wrong choice can be a very wrong choice.  The more complex and expensive the software, the more valuable the middle man becomes to you. After all, it's he who will be able to help you install it, answer questions about what it can do, debug your model, and help you navigate customer service of the software designer. Most critically, he will be able to advise you on which software (and how much of it) best meets your business's needs.

Be careful when selecting a VAR as well. There are plenty of companies who will be glad to sell you software at marked up prices. Ask questions about what each VAR is prepared to do for you and how quickly they are prepared to do it in case of emergency. This is your backup - make sure it's a dependable one.

While it would be nice to believe that software (and hardware) will be worth its expense and that it will work and continue to work for you over time, the truth is computers are complex, ever-changing, and prone to error. Given this, it's always best to go over your options carefully before you purchase and to find reliable consultants to help with your selection.

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