Can you afford a free software evaluation? (Part 2)

Part 1 | Part 3

Before we get into the actual costs associated with software evaluations, let’s talk about a real-world scenario outside the realm of CAE.

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software

There are dozens of CRM offerings like Siebel CRM, ACT!, and SugarCRM. At a minimum, these tools enable you to keep track of all customer information and interaction. The best of these tools push deeper into the enterprise level, allowing a 360 degree view of your business with customer support, sales, and forecasting automation. If your company has not invested in a modern CRM tool, get ready. It’s coming… and it’s pretty well impossible to have a flawless, painless transition. If you have recently gone through the transition, what I’m about to say should bring my point on software evaluations into clear focus.

In my early days with Blue Ridge Numerics, we had a small direct sales force and used a tool called Goldmine to keep track of new prospects and existing customers. The system was simple (really not much more powerful than today’s Outlook or Lotus Notes address book) and worked for us. As the market began to accept our “upfront CFD” mission, however, business exploded. We needed a more powerful solution to handle the flood of customer data, sales leads, and growing internal headcount.

We eventually settled on Salesforce.com. I really don’t think any one person in the company could have envisioned every great benefit a CRM platform would eventually bring to our business. When properly implemented, a CRM tool will touch every department of your corporation. It will call for people to accept new practices and interact in new ways. For a super successful lone-sales-wolf who is used to tracking his daily work with a whiteboard and post-it notes, this new process can easily be described with a few, choice four letter words.

Once the tool is in place, your business can be transformed. Every company is different, though… both the CRM tool and your internal business processes will need to flex in unforeseen ways to get there. One thing any CRM vendor should tell you: this is not a process to roll-out slowly or half-heartedly. It includes huge process and behavior changes.

You will not be an expert at choosing a CRM tool at your company until you have presided over the implementation of a CRM tool at your company.

I believe that a CRM “trial period” of multiple products would have been a complete waste of time for us. At best, it would have lead to surface judgements made by a few ambassadors from a few functional areas. At worst, the selection team’s frustration and inability to fully grasp the ultimate benefit of a finished implementation could have led to a “status quo” decision. Actually, worst case would have been a total business disruption while an even larger group kicked some tires.

In my opinion, there are strong parallels between choosing CRM and upfront CAE solutions. If you aren’t currently “doing” CRM, the small feature & function trade-offs between tools like SalesLogix and Salesforce.com (hell, even the cost differences) are inconsequential when compared to the expected benefits of implementing either. Same goes for using upfront CAE to move 80% of your traditional prototyping and testing out of the lab and onto the computer screens of your design engineers. Sure, it won’t be nearly the undertaking of implementing CRM across the enterprise, but… the human changes you’ll need to enact to be successful with upfront CAE are more critical than the small feature differences between competing products. And.. there’s no real way to “test drive” those human changes.

Make no mistake: even a “free” upfront CFD software evaluation is going to cost you time and money. Your design engineers lack the experience to truly know what to look for in an evaluation. Most people ask for 30 day evaluations. That’s not enough time to get any real insight into what will be important to your engineers after 2 years of actual use. Plus, how much effort are they really putting into the trial of a tool or process the company and its executives aren’t thoroughly endorsing?

Let’s get real: most 30 day software evaluations actually get started on day 29. These guys have hotter fires to put out on a daily basis… and if they don’t, maybe you have bigger business issues to consider!

Do you really want to pull your engineers away from their real work to ineffectively kick tires? Is that worth a slip in project deadlines? Do you really think their first, inexperienced impressions should be heavily weighted in a final decision?

Unless you are comparing offerings in commoditized, well-known product genres (such as word-processing), evaluations usually end up costing significant man-hours while delivering insignificant long-term insight. “Insight” may seem awfully touchy-feely, but I believe it to be the biggest slam against the practice of software evaluations. Numbers, however, carry more water than concepts for many people… so, take a look at “part 3” of this article for some hard costs associated with “honest effort” software trials.

Part 1 | Part 3

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4 comments

  1. […] Upcoming in part 2: a case study from outside the realm of CAE. […]

  2. Ryan Stamm · ·

    This is right on the money. Always seems puzzling also that engineers are so readily available to “try out” some software when they typically are so slammed with other work. I think it’s also interesting they want to use it first, then if seems okay then we’ll train and implement. Seems like a tough way to go…

  3. Ryan Stamm · ·

    This is right on the money. Always seems puzzling also that engineers are so readily available to “try out” some software when they typically are so slammed with other work. I think it’s also interesting they want to use it first, then if seems okay then we’ll train and implement. Seems like a tough way to go…