Nine Questions to Ask When Evaluating Your Agribusiness’ Software
Agribusinesses continue to evolve as mergers, acquisitions, and new technologies bring changes to traditional ways of doing business. Many companies are embracing technology to improve efficiency. But one important issue that is often overlooked is software.
Too often, I see grain merchandisers using Excel spreadsheets to calculate the mark to market and track their daily position reports, rather than using the grain module in their accounting system. This manual process is inefficient and prone to error.
When companies fail to evaluate how they use their software, they don’t know if their software has the right capabilities; they don’t know if is outdated, and they don’t even know if it is still supported by the vendor. These inefficiencies will eventually add up to a loss of productivity. As the needs of your company grow, someone must determine if your current software is being fully used, and if it’s the right fit for your organization.
Evaluating your current software
When you’re going through the evaluation process, it’s important to keep in mind that the end goals are efficiency, functionality, and user satisfaction. The following questions will prompt important discussions that will ultimately help your organization understand issues surrounding a software upgrade.
What are the pros and cons of the current software? Ask what users like and dislike about your software and how easy it is to use.
How much of your software is currently being utilized? Discuss with employees how much of their work they perform within the software and how much is performed outside the software. For example, are people reconciling spreadsheets in Excel, and documenting the reasoning for the work performed outside the software.
How do staff use your software? Generate a list of what users need to perform their work. Then compare the list to the capabilities of the software to identify gaps. Then ask your staff to generate a wish list of add-on features for the current software or a new software altogether. During this process, you may find that your younger employees may be looking for different functionality, which could lead to opportunities for innovation.
What is your software’s support and scalability? It is likely the users of your software have contacted the vendor for IT support and can provide insight into how quickly issues are resolved. In terms of scalability, there may be some functions in the software that were made inactive at the time the software was originally installed but may now be useful. After creating the needs list, review any inactive pieces of software or discuss possible add-ons with the vendor.
Is your current software capable of interfacing with the new technologies you are implementing? Software should be tested to ensure it can communicate with the other platforms, like mobile devices or equipment in the fields.
Is your software security up to date? Cybercrime and data breaches are becoming more common. Your company should know if it is using the most recent version of its software and if the vendor is constantly updating the software for security patches.
Is your software storing data securely? Not only is it essential to evaluate the security of the software, it is also critical to know if the software is encrypting the data or relying on company’s information technology infrastructure for data protection.
What kind of reviews are other companies giving the same software? Doing research on your current software vendor is a great way to see what experiences others are having. The answer to this question alone may have a powerful influence on how you upgrade your software.
Is your software able to adapt in a fast paced environment? As your company continues to evolve and grow, consider how your current software will be able to handle additional data storage and processing without impeding the speed of the network.
Deciding on new software
After completing the evaluation process, you should know if your current software will be able to satisfy your company’s growing technology needs. If you decide to look at new software that will better suit your company’s needs going forward, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
- Make sure the main users of the software are involved in the decision process. Make sure they provide input on software being evaluated and are involved in piloting the new software. Their buy-in will help to make the implementation of the new software much easier.
- Consider your old data. Will your company maintain the old software records on backup servers, or will the new software maintain the records as part of the transfer? Develop a plan for what data will be transferred to the new software and when this will occur. The change could be a hard cutoff, where the new software is the only system active. You could also have the two systems run in tandem to ensure that the new software performs as expected, while the old software maintains the data until any bugs are fixed.
- Once new software is selected, schedule time for training prior to the conversion date to ensure a smooth transition. Management will need to stress the importance of training and allow time for staff and users to attend.
How we can help
As your company continues to grow and develop, evaluating your software can help you discover opportunities to improve and innovate. Even if investing in new software is not the answer, it is essential to evaluate your current software to make sure your staff is properly trained, and that the software is genuinely serving the needs of your management team and users.
If a new software is in your future, it typically takes a year for users to adapt and become comfortable with the change. CLA’s agribusiness professionals have helped many clients upgrade their software and facilitate the evaluation. No matter the outcome, agribusinesses will benefit from the powerful insights gained in the process by completing an evaluation of their software.