This guest blog was contributed by Tawnya Stone | 8/9/13
Everyone is talking about document management. Now what? Do you dive in and start offering a solution to your customers? If so, how do you know which one to offer? Whether you are looking at implementing a document management program for your customers or simply for your own consumption, there are many things you should keep in mind.
If you have started looking at document management systems, you know there are literally hundreds of them, each boasting different bells and whistles. How are you supposed to narrow the field and find the one that will work best for you?
A feature and benefit comparison of the systems available is an important part of the research process. However, there are some additional key questions that you need to ask in order to ensure that you are getting exactly what you want. In most cases, there is no right answer; rather, there is a right fit for you, your customers and the solution you want to provide. Not only is the software component essential, but so is the vendor that will be supporting you. So consider the following:
1. Is this solution hosted, on-premises or a hybrid?
There are advantages and disadvantages to all three. The main difference is where your data will be stored and who is going to be responsible for keeping your system and software updated. In a hosted model, the provider of the software will primarily be responsible for these functions. Conversely, in an on-premises model, that will be your responsibility. In the on-premises scenario, you will typically have more control over how your data is backed up, but that also means that it is your responsibility to keep current backups in case you ever need to restore data. Depending on your internal resources, the appropriate model should be pursued.
2. What involvement does the software vendor have in teaching and supporting you during your sales process with your customers?
Selling document management is not the same as selling MPS, IT services or boxes. You are going to need someone with experience to help navigate the process for at least the first few sales. It seems straightforward to set up folders to store various types of scanned documents or to pick some index fields to base searches on. However, that method will not satisfy your customer and will be a support nightmare for you. It is key to understand your customers’ processes and specific needs in order to set up a system in a way that works for them. While the fundamentals will be similar, each implementation will require a unique execution. If you have this experience in house, you may require less education and support during your sales process, but in absence of that skill, your vendor will be your best resource.
3. Does this solution offer workflow options, and if so, what is the ease of implementing and customizing them?
Not every end-user organization will want workflow; however, this need is a natural progression for document management users. There are unlimited kinds of workflow, and understanding how your customer would benefit from any of them goes back to the sales process. It is imperative that you understand the various ways that documents can get into the system as well as what needs to happen from a business perspective once they are in there. Many organizations implement their system in phases, leaving workflow to secondary phases; however, it is important to consider their future needs when building the initial framework. If you chose to offer such an option, having a user-friendly interface will shift maintenance to your customer, allowing you to focus your support time on net new customers.
4. What does your support and your customer’s support look like?
Software solutions are only as good as the support that comes with them. You may want to provide your own support to your customer; then again, you may want the software vendor to provide support. Whatever your plan, make sure your selected vendor offers a compatible model. Post-sales support is more than just answering questions about the current software. It is important to know if the vendor is offering software updates. Additionally, you should have a clear understanding of your eligibility for the updates based on your implementation model. Even on-premises software should have updates and patches. If you selected a cloud-based model, you need to make sure that the hosting company has a long history that ensures its own sustainability. Data backups and disaster recovery are also important topics to discuss specifically with cloud models. Nothing will ruin a customer relationship faster than not being able to provide these services in your customer’s time of need.
Although it’s always essential to review the list of features that are important to both you and your customers, a critical decision like this goes beyond the features. While these questions are not meant to be inclusive, they should give you a starting point for analyzing document management software vendors.
Tawnya Stone is Director, Business Unit Strategic Technology, at GreatAmerica Financial Services Corp. (http://www.greatamerica.com). She is responsible for working with GreatAmerica vendors and dealers to find opportunities to improve their operational effectiveness. She is also instrumental in architecting the company’s technology integrations and other software solutions. GreatAmerica is a member of Technology United (http://www.technologyunited.com).