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Commentary & Analysis

The Feature Trap of Buying Print Software

There is a hidden pitfall most of us in the position of purchasing print software are very susceptible to. We are all human, and while we have the best of intentions to do thorough evaluations while making a new print software purchase, we quickly fall victim to the ‘feature trap.’

By Jane Mugford
Published: May 27, 2014

There is a hidden pitfall most of us in the position of purchasing print software are very susceptible to. We are all human, and while we have the best of intentions to do thorough evaluations while making a new print software purchase, we quickly fall victim to the ‘feature trap.’ This is where, despite starting out with the intention of analyzing the software in a very in depth manner to see if it will suit the complexity of our businesses and be able to stand up to the day-to-day intensity of our environments, we often get sold on one or two really fantastic features and bypass a thorough functional evaluation.  We do our best, try to think big picture and evaluate the technology from a ‘day-in-the-life’ perspective, but it is so hard to look organically at how the technology will ‘function’ each and every day in your environment.  Quite frankly, that analysis can be boring and time consuming. Most of us are put in the position of needing to do our evaluations through a couple of sales demonstrations or after standing on the uncomfortable trade show floor with all of the distraction that comes with 10,000 of your closest friends crowding through the booths with you. In those situations, it is easy to get caught up in the features and lose sight of the overall functionality.

Feature traps are the underlying cause of many implementation failures. When software has been purchased based more on the charisma of the features than the underlying functional ability of the system, there is trouble brewing before you even hit your go-live date. Great features don’t necessarily translate to great function. Sometimes software with ‘less cool’ features can be much more functional than software with amazing features. How your newly acquired software ‘functions’ in your environment is the actual make or break of the investment.  

It is not only very important to assess Print MIS function from your current perspective (how many people will use it, how many transactions a month does it need to handle, how does accounting need to interact with the technology, etc.) but to also look at your future growth potential. If you plan to acquire a company that adds an employee base of 30 people, you need to look at how easy it will be to add that user base to the system. Can it handle the setup and configuration of a newly acquired company that has different services than you? If your transactional growth volume is anticipated to increase by 25% in 12 months, can the database that the Print MIS or web-to-print system uses handle it? Does the technology sit on a powerful infrastructure that can load balance and handle many users accessing the tool simultaneously without slowing it down? A great a dashboard may look good, but it is useless if the core infrastructure of the system is so limited that it takes that great dashboard 45 seconds to load each time it is called up or refreshed.

A feature that handles a very specific ‘task’ is less important than the core functionality of the underlying technology, no matter how fantastic the feature is. In the world of Print MIS, how orders get from one end of the system to the other is much more important than how a specific feature handles a specific event. It is much easier for software vendors to add features than it is for them to add underlying functionality and foundation.  Before you buy anything, you need to really immerse yourself in a ‘day-in-the-life’ of how this print software will work. What does that mean? It means look at every aspect of what your organization needs to function on a daily basis. Look at things like all of the spreadsheets that different people from all levels in your organization are managing and updating daily, weekly, monthly to assess how people keep track of critical ‘stuff.’ Those disconnected spreadsheets tell the story of how your company is using information to ‘function’ (albeit in a very time-consuming and challenging manner).  This is particularly important in the Print MIS environment.  While you may be hung up on some cool features that you need, if the system can’t handle the inclusion of all of the data that currently is relied upon to run your business in a meaningful, sustainable and real-time way, then chances are it won’t be a good fit for you. How the software can blend in to your environment and take on your specific requirements is much more critical than how a seemingly powerful feature may work.

Sometimes great features can mask bad function. Many of us don’t have the skill set to assess functional ability of the system – the core technology and database setup and structure that the system relies on. In addition to the core technical functionality, consideration needs to be given to how the system handles key aspects like reporting, accounting and customization/configuration. This can lead to big procurement misses, like buying a Print MIS solution that pivots around the estimating function when you do all your pricing via a price list.  To ensure that you are properly evaluating the technology, you need to include trusted resources in the areas of IT, operational management and Accounting/Finance from within your company. You must ensure that the functional capabilities of the potential purchase are qualified and sufficient to handle your needs, not only today, but long into the future. 

Don’t get me wrong, features are very important, and regular release of new features shows that growth and development dollars are being put behind the product you have invested in. You need to know that the software you are investing in has a lengthy roadmap ahead of it. If you can ensure that you and your team take the time to properly assess both functionality and features, you are more likely to end up with a print software acquisition that is the most suitable fit for your organization, today and well into the future.

Jane Mugford is a contributor at WhatTheyThink’s Print Softwaresection as well the lead print MIS specialist at Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions.



By Trevor Cocks on May 29, 2014

Hi Jane

I really like this article (and your series) - we come across this all the time.

Prospective clients get "sold" on one whizz-bang idea/feature - either something they dreamed up one night without real thoguht for the practicalities, OR something a sales-rep showed them in a demo - then hit home on it. Of course he'll make sure the printer asks every other vendor about it, knowing they don't offer it!

Whether it's JDF, or DMI, or Shipping Integration, or a little flashing red light when a job runs late.

Not that JDF/DMI don't have their place, but a many printers fall into the trap of thinking these kind of things are "out-of-the-box", "plug-n-play" features... invariably they're not! Printers have to assess their own budget, commitment, status/upgradability of existing equipment, and in-house IT/programming capabilities before taking on either of those.

They end up chasing the dream, fixated on finding the holly grail, and come back to where they started - the MIS vendor who planted the seed and said "yes" to everything (without really showing them).

After 26 years in this indusry, I finally got around to writing my own buyer's guide which I published on our LinkedIn Group and website. It's not comprehensive but it's a start.

Although I am naturally biased, the guide is designed to be informative and unbiased.


Keep the features coming!


By Jane Mugford on May 29, 2014

Thanks so much for your comments Trevor. I completely agree and it is an easy trap to fall in to. The problem is, once you realize that the you haven't actually purchased the functionality you need, while you have some snazzy features, it is too little too late. Your buyers guide is a great reference for people shopping for new MIS technology!


By Jennifer whitney on Jun 02, 2014

First, great article Jane! Coming from the product-side of the market we at Keen couldn’t agree with you more.

It may sound funny, having a software provider not pushing an infinite number of features on customers. When we were in the early stages of product development, tons of features were thrown in the ring. But in an effort to make it to market before everyone and their brother did, it behooved us to slim down. Truth be told, even today our sales team is constantly pushing for features, this is because they’re at the front lines with customers and see all of the fads. Luckily, our product managers and engineers weigh in to provide balance. And, we’ve learned a thing or two in our short history:

1.) A strong product doesn’t need a ton of features & allows engineers more time to strengthen the core product vs quickly patch together fad features on a whim

2.) Features should be created like condiments added to a meal, sparingly and well placed.

You might pull up our website upon reading this article (which we’d love) and see we have a link to “Features” about our web-to-print solution, but really many of these are just the components, or the tools if you will, of our core product.

I think it says something about a software’s product, engineering and sales teams when a product has a strong core with a thoughtful and evolving set of features based on market developments.


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