Training Your Staff is the New Software Purchasing Best Practice

TrainingI am going to suggest that training your staff is the new software purchasing best practice for avoiding those lemons and buyers remorse. The idea would be that before you buy that data warehouse and reporting package for your SIS or ERP, or that new LMS, IDM integration, project management software, or CRM SaaS software you would send your key staff to vendor training. You might even send end users like departmental report writers or faculty.

Software Purchasing Best Practice

I imagine we could quickly agree on what is software purchasing best practice. For many organizations, best practice has been formalized in the purchasing policies or vendor management program. For others, best practice is less formal or even fluid based on the type of software being purchased and its intended use.

Among the tried and true software purchasing best practice would be developing a requirements document, seeing live demos, conducting vendor bake-offs, and maybe a proof-of-concept. Best practice would also include conducting an RFP or seeking competitive bids and following them up with customer reference checks including site visits or at least a webinar.

At that point best practice shifts to the vendor management controls for assessing the vendor health and negotiating the terms and conditions of the sale and any implementation services and software maintenance contracts.

Software Buyers Remorse

How many of us have been involved in a software selection process which followed all or most of the best practices cited above only to realize during the vendor training that we just bought a real pig of a solution? I have, and it sure stings to learn there was a hole in your due diligence and software selection process.

You convince yourself it was unavoidable and the vendor references you spoke to were just shills fulfilling a discount obligation or maybe just not savvy enough to see what you see. But you know none of that matters and you are now the proud owner of a colossal mess (aka POS) to support and use.

If any of this sounds familiar to you then you probably also know that getting software buyers remorse isn’t limited to business application software. IT infrastructure software as well as IT operations and management software purchasing has more than its share of bad software selections and shelfware.

Training – The New Best Practice

What if after the RFP’s or bids are scored, when you have your preliminary software selection done, you were to send a small team to vendor training before signing the contract instead of waiting to go through vendor training during implementation? Would that help you sharpen your decision?

You could make your software selection contingent on the vendor training experience. You might even add it as the final element in the RFP or bid criteria. You could pay for it yourself as part of your risk management strategy since it might be cheaper than making a bad software selection decision. And, you could also have the cost of training applied to the software purchasing cost if you go through with the deal.

What do you think?

Would sending a team to vendor training have changed any software purchasing decisions you’ve made recently? How well would this work for major system purchases?

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6 Responses to Training Your Staff is the New Software Purchasing Best Practice

  1. I like your suggestion about including a product training in your risk management portion of the product selection process however I think this only works in scenarios where training would cover 20-30% (or more) of a product. Software suites such as Ellucian’s Colleague or Banner are far too vast to do any type of comprehensive business unit litmus test. But LMS and CRM products may be a good fit due to the nature of their base functionality features and the ability to evaluate them.

  2. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    Purchase decisions on an entire large suites like Colleague or Banner require an adjusted strategy to focus on the core product. So in your example maybe you send a couple of the technical team to take the Intro to Banner Administration or Banner Student Technical courses. If you are considering adding additional modules then send them or the functional user to the respective technical or user training whichever makes sense.

    Perhaps one word of caution is needed when it comes to reporting solutions. Again to use Banner, many purchasing decisions for enhanced reporting out of Banner might focus more on the reporting application choice of Cognos or Argos instead. When completing some initial training on Banner ODS/EDW might prove to be more useful.

  3. Kyle Judah says:

    I LOVE this idea because it helps increase the transparency of information available to school decision makers before there is ink on the dotted line. Since the actual personal use of most software is relegated until post-purchase, post-implementation and post-training, if there are any disconnects it would be far too late(and costly) to stop or transition. However, I think sending staff to receive training isn’t the best use of time – especially since brutal legacy enterprise systems like Sharepoint require several days of training to get someone up to speed.

    HigherEd could be better served by creating pathways for open communication across departments and institutions, allowing administrators to share their expertise, reviews and opinions of the software that they have used. Think of it like a Yelp! or Consumer Reports database for the niche products, services and vendors operating in the education industry. I firmly believe that the sharing of information between peers about vendors and their products/services will help make software purchasing immensely more efficient for HigherEd, and mitigate the chance for buyer’s remorse. At the very least, access to this information can be a huge time saver – studies by HBS Professor Greg Lewis have shown that when there is internal collaboration to create transparent purchase requirements for RFPs, it can save 30% of the time during the RFP process and 40% of the time spent during the implementation.

    No institution is an island, and no administrator is alone in this world – let’s create systems that empower the admins to get the pertinent information they need, from people they trust, to allow them to make an informed, efficient and data driven purchasing decision.

  4. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    You have made a couple of great points. Of course the decision to send anyone to training ahead of a purchase decision would be based on the cost-benefit of the training versus the risk of making a bad product selection. The purchase cost of SharePoint is effectively insignificant for higher education enabling it to be a throw-away solution if need be. Whereas products requiring a more substantial investment, including SaaS applications that require long term contracts, have potentially dramatic cost-benefit to doing it.

    Relative to collaboration etc… Admitting publicly you can’t get your software to work or your costs doubled your estimates is not something likely to happen in higher education given how risk/failure adverse it is. I also find that culturally, higher education has more difficulty putting their name to a bad review than the millions on Yelp over a bad meal.

  5. Jerry, great point. I would even suggest to train users before you are going into a software selection process. It’s my experience that companies are choosing new software because it has so many advantages over the older version. But most of the times it is because users do not know what’s inside the version they’re already using. We all know that in many cases only 25%-30% of software suites, or perhaps more in case of ERP, is used. Why not investing in training? It’s a lot cheaper and quicker too!
    Only when you really need new functionality like webbased/webservices, sophisticated datamining, graphics or let’s say iPad support, you may look into new software. And than your point is clear.

  6. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    So nice to hear from you again Harold. You make some excellent points about underutilized software and the relative cost of training as an investment. I just heard about a central IT group for a university system struggling with a help desk software implementation that regrets not having put someone through some training before purchasing it.

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