Four Suggestions to Help you Select the Right Technology Solution

In life, the easiest decisions to make are the Boolean ones, those for which there are only two possible answers. When your choices are yes or no, true or false, up or down, and in or out, then you can make your wants and needs definitively known in a matter of seconds – just ask any two-year-old.  

The next step up is multiple choice. As great cliché masters have noted, there are many ways to skin a cat, and many paths to the same destination.  Picture buying a shirt: by definition, you’re looking for basic torso coverage, but add the complications of size, style, color, material and price range – and all the variations thereon – and a simple choice presents thousands of options. These sorts of decisions can keep teenagers and other indecisive types occupied for hours, days or weeks at a time.

The most complex choices are what I call “Offsetting Obstacles,” where the basic choices are similar but not the same, and the differences generally lack relativity and comparable scale. Invariably, the pros don’t eliminate the cons, and making the final selection usually involves equal parts of measurable data, gut reaction, buyer’s intuition and pure dumb luck. Unfortunately for the HITEC audience, the best example of an offsetting obstacle decision is selecting a complex software system.

Computing technology has evolved such that we are never solving a single, standalone problem; we always address a wide range of issues simultaneously. The easiest hypothetical definition of a hospitality/property management systems is “reservations and folios, inventories and receivables, arrivals and departures, debits and credits.” Forgetting housekeeping, audit or the myriad variations on the basic themes, that 10,000-foot summary doesn’t begin to touch the variety of deliverables that comprise any PMS solution. System buyers realistically shop for dozens – if not dozens of dozens – of individual functions and capabilities. Is it any wonder that they all seem the same but not even vaguely comparable?  It’s as if we come to HITEC in search of the perfect Swiss Army knife that must have at least 128 blades organized into a single cohesive unit, with each blade performing a different task. All blades must be rapidly accessible, deadly accurate and uniquely adaptable while still being completely standard and highly intuitive, quickly and easily supported with little or no training. The unit must function exactly as specified, but blades must be instantly modified or replaced when we think of new things to do with them… and does it come in blue instead of red?

The oddest thing about this mass of contradictory requirements is that there may be a dozen different vendors on the show floor with their own remarkably similar but uniquely different Swiss Army knives. Having a choice is not your problem. Your problem is making a choice.

Let’s say that you do your due diligence and work your way through your environmental and technology issues, and you drop the field by half. Then you take on the feature and functionality comparisons, resolving your Square Peg (unique requirement)/Round Hole (standard solution) conflicts to see who changes what to reach mutual agreement. Methodically you tally the scores and narrow the competition, and let’s say again that you are down to your top five contenders. So now you do a detailed price comparison and open-mindedly throw out the high- and the low-price outliers, leaving yourself with your best three choices. Now what? If you have multiple vendors who adequately comply with your requirements and fall within your price range, how do you get to the vendor?

Here are a few suggestions that may help you avoid having to flip coins:
  • Review your Success Metrics. Of course, you have these at hand – they are the key project drivers that signal goal attainment and cost justification. Changing systems is one thing, successfully delivering promised business objectives is quite another.   
  • Know Thyself.  Be realistic about who your company is, what you can and/or are willing to do, and what determines (or permits) success. Revalidate your objectives and make sure you haven’t been blinded by whiz-bang possibilities you didn’t need in the first place, and long-term options you may never exercise.
  • Evaluate the vendor and the relationship as thoroughly as you evaluated their product. When you install a complex, expensive solution, you also enter a long-term relationship.  Make sure you like the organization, its representatives, its values, and their commitment to your success.  You aren’t likely to go as far unless both the organizations foresee long-term benefits and future opportunities arising from doing business together.  
  • All other things being equal, price is now a key objective. Remember that if you have three solution options that all comparatively fit the problem set, why pay more than the lowest price available? In this mythical field of three, ask the two higher-priced vendors to match the low price in order to win the opportunity. The vendors will either trim some fat or excuse themselves from the process. Either way, you win – you’ve either brought it in at the prevailing lowest rate, or you’ve arrived at a specific price delta that represents the additional cost of selecting that vendor. You should be able to enumerate the differences that cost justify that selection or be prepared to make a different choice.

Remember that most of companies that change existing systems aren’t doing so because they made some horrible selection error in years past. They are typically solving for other issues, such as technical obsolescence, a change in vendor status or capability, or having operationally outgrown their current software, platform or technology footprint.  If history is an indicator of the future, you’re not likely to make a horrible mistake… but it never hurts to validate project assumptions, know what specific problems you’re chartered to fix, document credible success metrics and make the choices that best serve those predefined goals. Nobody gets fired for turning in a success.