Define Software Requirements Before You Buy

Define software requirments

Purchasing enterprise software should be thought of as a science rather than an art. It should be a planned process with a well-defined objective, a beginning, and a definitive end-point. Practically every enterprise decision maker involved in a software purchasing decision will know of a “horror story” where a business bought a software solution that didn’t pan out well for the organization. 

Usually, software vendors end up carrying the blame, but that is a simplistic and perhaps unfair way of passing the buck. In many such cases, the enterprise would have been able to mitigate the risk of purchasing new software if they had taken the time and effort to properly define software requirements before they started the software evaluation process. Let’s look at software requirements and why they are so vital for a software purchase decision.

What are software requirements? 

Deciding to purchase a new enterprise software can be a time-consuming affair involving a lot of effort. With various software solutions out there and tons of software vendors only too eager to hard-sell their solutions to you, you can safely factor in at least a two-to-four month period (at the bare minimum) to purchase a new software solution. Since a software solution can cost an enterprise anything between hundreds of thousands of dollars to a couple of million, it is vital for you to do comprehensive due diligence before the purchasing decision.

The first step in this purchase decision should be explicitly defining software requirements so that you can put down on paper what the new software should do and what problems it should solve. 

Why is it important to define them?

It is essential for any business to define software requirements before they buy a new software so that they have well-defined criteria to assess potential software solutions against.  If you are a decision maker, keep in mind that you need to purchase software that will successfully address the specific needs of your business. There are just too many instances of enterprises ending up with a new software solution that the users don’t use simply because the software requirements were not defined before the purchase process started.

How can they be integrated into the software evaluation process?

Defining software requirements is an essential aspect of any purchase decision. You can consider it to form the foundation of the software evaluation process that the enterprise should necessarily go through before deciding which software the organization should eventually purchase. You can integrate your software requirements document in the evaluation process by including them in the RFP (Request for Proposal) document you’ll send to the software vendors.

How to determine your requirements

Some aspects to jot down in your software requirements document are:

  •  What features should the new software have
  •  How many users can the software support, and how many user accounts will you need
  •  How simple will it be for your users to adapt to
  •  What integrations will the software support in terms of possible interactions with your software
  •  What will be the initial and recurring cost 
  •  What sort of support will the vendor provide to your users


The first step is eliciting software requirements by conducting interviews with stakeholders, collecting user stories, observing problem areas, and preparing use cases. 

The next step is to classify the requirements in the following broad areas:

  • Functional requirements
  • Non-functional requirements
  • Derived
  • Product/Process related
  • Priority
  • Scope
  • Stability/Volatility


After you’ve classified the software requirements, you should validate them with the various stakeholders to assess whether the requirements you’ve captured are accurate. This step is essential to ensure that any software you purchase based on these requirements will actually meet stakeholder needs.

Example of a typical use-case

Let us consider a hypothetical scenario where an organization is looking to implement a new ERP system. Here are the typical steps that you should follow:

a) Document your requirements along with details of your processes and your current IT infrastructure. Keep in mind that without comprehensive documentation of your current IT environment and also your needs, you won’t have a framework in place which you can use to assess any potential software solutions.

b) After completing the necessary documentation and validating it by key stakeholders, you should prepare an RFP and send it to prospective vendors. The RFP should have a clear projection definition and identify the issues the vendor’s solution should solve. You should ask specific questions in areas like:

  • Technology stack
  • Integration options
  • Future direction of the product
  • Vendor’s experience with similar solutions
  • Customer references
  • Implementation process
  • Risks and risk mitigation plan
  • Pre-sales and after-sales support
  • Initial and ongoing costs 


c) Send the RFP to the vendors and give them 3-4 weeks to respond. It is essential for you to be available to the vendors in the eventuality that they have any questions based on your RFP.

d) After the RFP responses come in, sit with your team and shortlist at least three vendors whose solutions appear to be the best fit for your business.

e) Call the shortlisted vendors for a demo and provide them with some sample data from your systems that they should be able to use to show their software’s functionality.

f) Identify two vendors from the shortlisted three who can meet your requirements and ask for a trial version of their fully functional software for you and your team to do a dry run for a few weeks.

g) After this period, you should have solid data points to decide which of the two shortlisted vendors you will go with.

The most important thing to remember in this use case is that if you don’t define your software requirements at the initial stage, you’ll most probably end up making an ad-hoc decision about which software to buy.

Conclusion

Making a decision on which software to purchase is not an easy task. Keep in mind that for the ROI from enterprise software to be positive, it is vital for you to define your software requirements as explicitly as possible.

If you are making a major software purchase decision, then it’s important to rely on an honest third-party evaluation based on the right combination of user feedback, testing and professional analysis. Now is a good time to contact TopSoft and find out how we can help you make the right choice.