Blog / Software Musings – Part I: Choosing Line of Business Software is Not Easy
We’ve spent a lot of space recently in our weekly articles beating you over the head about End of Windows 7 Support (Jan 14, 2020) and dire consequences of poor Cyber Security practices & counter-measures. It’s all important and legitimate, but we need a change of pace.
Three recent events in the last week have coalesced into some thoughts about the software we use – and I’d like to share some insights on how this affects us. Line of Business (LoB) software are the industry-specific apps we use to perform our daily tasks. If you’re working in – or operating – a business or municipality with any more than a handful of people, chances are you use LoB software. This differs from the Office suite you use for Email, Word processing or spreadsheets.
If you’re a small organization, it might not be anything other than QuickBooks or Sage Accounting to do invoicing and quoting. Slightly larger outfits might use something for their type of operation – retail Point of Sale, contractor Estimating, or Real Estate Listing software, for example. Larger firms with more specific needs use highly-specialized software that controls most of their business workflow: legal Case Management, accountant Tax Prep, and automotive Service, come to mind. The Municipal world has very sophisticated applications handling all aspects of their operations. Some of the more popular ones: TownSuite, Central-Square (Diamond), Serenic, and Muniware.
It’s the last group that brings me to the first event. We had a Municipal Client who wanted to move to a Cloud version of their LoB software. We helped them through a preliminary evaluation of the process the vendor was proposing. It was the same application they currently use, but the move would allow them to update to a new version, while reducing the load on their internal infrastructure. I think the cost model was also more attractive.
However, on the eve of the move, we were granted access to the Cloud environment. Imagine our surprise when we discovered it was a shared environment with other Clients from the same vendor. While user logins respected Security Protocols for each User and Client, it was a simple matter to poke behind the scenes to uncover data from any of the Clients hosted on the system. The system also lacked Two-Factor Authentication – a Protocol whereby users must identify themselves twice to verify their authenticity. It was not appropriate to proceed any further, until the problems were resolved.
Lesson #1: Just because the application has the features to support your business workflow with the prospect of improving your operations, an IT professional needs to evaluate the underlying architecture to ensure your data is secure and not easily-compromised. The same applies to the Backup & Data Recovery processes, as well as the vendor’s ability to keep the system operating with a minimum of down-time. A Technical Evaluation is at least as key as a Feature Evaluation.
The second event involves us – TRINUS. We use an in-house developed LoB application to track all our activities, except payroll, banking, and high-level accounting. But after 14 years, we’ve out-grown it and it’s time for a change. This is a daunting task, as we’ve come to rely on this system and its 14 years of historical data. We held our first planning meeting a few days ago to discover our likes/dislikes of the current system, and a wish list of features divided into 2 broad categories: MUST have and NICE-TO have. I was surprised how long the list is. We also identified the need for data migration from the old system to the new, staff training, and post-deployment support.
Our next step is to contact some prospective Vendors for a preliminary demo. We know we’re going to be inundated with glitzy presentations and razzle-dazzle. But we’re going to try and keep focused and dig beneath the surface to find out how it really works. Which brings me to…
Lesson #2: Changing LoB software – especially if you’ve used the current system for an extended time period, has the potential of breaking your operations, possibly to the point of putting it at risk of total failure. Don’t ignore the soft costs of detailed deployment planning, accurate data migration, training, and support. Vendor Support is at least as important as Feature Support.
Next week, I’d like to introduce you to some new features of Office 365, that also delve into the world of LoB software.
If you would like more information on LoB application migration processes, please contact me for some stress-free IT planning.