Choosing a management software program is a little like getting married. Most people make their choice based on a number of personal factors, and then they stick with it. But what if you made a choice and several years later, it just doesn’t feel right anymore? Would you look elsewhere for satisfaction, or would you try to make do with what you have?
“Research suggests that the average lifespan of a business management system is approximately seven years,” says Clark Haley with BCS ProSoft. For some, it’s at this point that they begin to look around at what other providers might have to offer.
J.J. Shea at Solutions by Computer notes that barring some serious deficiency in the software, system owners generally stick with their software supplier and keep upgrading to newer releases unless they have some need that the software can’t handle now or in the near future. “The need could relate to functionality, limitations of scale, or the need to take better advantage of general business tools such as emailing, faxing, credit card processing, etc.”
Sometimes it’s the system’s inability to change that’s at the root of one’s desire to look elsewhere. “Software doesn’t wear out or become obsolete; it will generally always do what it initially did,” Shea says. “But it may not adapt to new requirements of the business, such as providing the rental customer with the capability of viewing information about their account online. And if a software supplier has gone out of business or isn’t providing adequate support to customers, change is called for – and the sooner the better, before a serious issue arises.”
Starting over with another
So, let’s say you’ve ended it with your previous software supplier. Now what? How do you begin to rebuild? According to Michael Saint with Corporate Services, the process begins with assembling a team to determine the new target goals, developing new processes and building “cheatsheets.” It then ends with training and ultimately concludes with testing, testing and more testing.
In the middle of all this, the meat of the process requires what’s typically referred to as “mapping” the data, but it’s usually far more complex than it sounds. “Mapping implies that there exists matching data ‘buckets’ in both systems. In actuality, the systems rarely match up and therefore it’s necessary to calculate or extrapolate data from one system to another,” he explains. “Other considerations are the quality of data available from the source system, the desire to re-organize data and the technology used to store data in the older system.”
He continues, “It really amounts to restructuring the old source data to the current needs of the client. The most important concept is testing. Scripts should be constructed to move the data and then extensive testing should confirm that the resulting data has integrity within the new system.”
Shea at SBC agrees, noting that the ultimate goal is always to see an improvement in functionality. “Conversion technologies are always evolving, but no matter what method is used, the data from the existing system must be converted to the new system in a way that functions properly with the new software rules,” he says. “It’s essential for the software supplier and the rental operator to have a mutual understanding of how both systems function, or even the most automated conversion process can become compromised. The goal at the end of the conversion is for the data to be manipulated by the new system in a way that is as valuable, or more valuable, than was possible in the prior system.”
Making it work
Often, it isn’t necessary to go with a completely different provider to get the increased functionality you need from your software system. Sometimes, it just takes an upgrade. Still, the process can seem daunting because it requires tinkering with what’s familiar and there’s always the potential for things to go wrong. These concerns are largely unwarranted.