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.