Picks to Click: Choosing the Right Business Software

March 1, 2021
A lot should go into this important purchase decision, including data storage, data changeover and implementation.
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Andrew Neel Cckf4 Ts H Auw Unsplash

Record-keeping is crucial to any business, and the security industry is no different. You have to keep track of revenues, expenses and jobs. If your business is more than a solo operation, there’s also payroll and work scheduling to consider. Doing this by hand isn’t an option. You have to have a computer, which means you have to have the right business software to help you run your operation.

Before my entrance into the security industry, I worked for an organization that spent tens of thousands of dollars on a new piece of software that it couldn’t seem to implement into its daily workflow. By the time the organization actually implemented the software, several years later, it was outdated and incompatible. Eventually, the organization had to spend even more money to update the software. That process taught many lessons about how to implement new software into your business. 

Putting It in Place

The first step to a successful software implementation is to find someone who can manage the implementation without it getting in the way of their daily workload. Be careful about selecting the right person for the job; the wrong person can slow the process or even implement the software incorrectly, which would cause the workflow of your team and the software to be ineffective. This person should be organized and highly communicative, and have a good understanding of your business processes.

Oftentimes, the business owner will try to make all of the decisions. Although they might want to be involved in the process, they shouldn’t make all of the decisions or champion the process. Companies that have had successful implementation are those that have a good representation of roles and departments in the organization as well as someone dedicated to making software implementation a big success. I don't want to understate the importance of this individual: Don't shortcut this process.

After you’ve chosen the right person to lead, get everyone involved. Your implementor should make training a priority. They have to understand the role of each person who will use the software and tailor the training to that role. From my experience, poor execution of training and a lack of dedication to training will cause frustration, loss of revenue and a poor customer experience. If your team is confused and frustrated, your customers will be, too.

Finally, when you introduce business management software to your organization, it can be a major disrupter in the normal workflow. Don’t be misled: Business management software can be a massive tool to improve your organizational efficiency. Don’t misunderstand, software won’t solve all your issues, but it can make improvements in your business efficiency and communication.

Having a good documented workflow that you use to operate will be helpful. However, approach these conversations with an open mind and a real understanding that many of your processes and your workflow might have to change or adapt to the software workflow.

What's Essential

There are several factors to keep in mind while you search for software and questions you’ll want to ask when having conversations with software representatives.

Exit strategy: This isn’t about selling your business; it’s about your data. It's important to remember when you work with any software: Where is your data, how is it stored and how can you export  it if you decide to leave the platform? All too often, people fall into a highly proprietary software situation that produces data that can be read only in that software platform. The longer you use the software, the more difficult it becomes to transition away without losing your history. 

A common question to ask: Can I export my data as a CSV or a spreadsheet file? This would provide you with maximum flexibility of importing your data into new software. If the software provider only can provide you with an encrypted backup file, it could be difficult to bring that data into a new platform.

Data Storage: Where will your data be stored? A common practice nowadays is cloud storage. Although this would be the most suggested way to store your data, be mindful of internet speeds and mobile internet speeds as far as accessing the data. Cloud storage and the possibilities for connecting that data to other pieces of software in the future is a big plus. 

The alternative would be on premises or a local server. This will give you a high reliability of access to your data but also limits how you can share it. This option also typically requires more knowledge of the physical equipment and might even require someone to manage the equipment.

Role-Based Access: Segmenting information and displaying what’s important for each role at your company while employees use it should be considered. Each role has specific tasks and requires specific information. The technician, for example, won’t require the same information as would someone in accounting. Dispatch must have a curated schedule that wouldn’t be relevant to purchasing. Software helps with this. Rather than each person shuffling through pages of information to find what they have to have, good business software will display what’s relevant to their role.

Feature Priority: There’s no perfect software. Very infrequently will you find a one-stop solution for everything you want to maintain. Just as with shopping for a car, creating a list of feature priorities will make the process significantly easier.

Over the years, I've had the experience of testing and seeing many different types of business software. Each particular software has its strengths or niche. That might be dispatching or scheduling, inventory, point of sale or financial metrics. Make a list of what’s important to you and your organization to start the process. 

Future Planning: When selecting software, you typically are trying to solve a current problem. Keep in mind, though, that you want to have an eye on the future. When you look at business software, you might find that it might seem to be too much for where your business is at the moment or you might lean towards finding something that is economical but has limitations. Both of these traps are difficult to work through, because you don't want to have to change your software every few years, nor do you want to have such a complex piece of software that you can't actually use.

A great trend with cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service) is “pay as you go” where you can scale with the platform. Another benefit of cloud-based software is you receive new feature releases without having to change your physical software or hardware. You just buy additional modules or add-ons as they become available. If your business is growing, this should be something to consider. 

Mobile Use: How does this software perform on a mobile device? In our industry, having the ease of navigation with access to powerful information can be a game-changer in your business. Technicians, salespeople, dispatchers, accounting and purchasing typically will use any software in a completely different way. Providing them with ease of access to information is something to consider. I've seen an accounting person get a message on their mobile device and verify information for a customer while taking an afternoon stroll. I’ve watched a technician on the 31st floor check the service history and key records for a particular opening on his phone. They all have to have access to the information that’s most pertinent and relevant to them at the time. Good software should allow the user to find the information without having to contact someone else in the company for the information. Native applications, browser-based and offline mode are all terms to consider and ask about when you look for software that integrates with mobile.   

Customization: If you ever talked to an app developer about customized applications, your head still might be spinning. With all the technology and development languages that are available, possibilities appear to be limitless. However, don’t fall into this seemingly endless path. Customized software is extremely expensive, extremely complex and extremely time-consuming. Although customized software might not be necessary, many software developers offer customizable fields, and you might want slight custom variations. This will be discovered through adapting and implementing your workflow. 

Integrations: Connecting two pieces of software automatically creates a rewarding experience for your employees. Customized integrations can be costly, time-consuming and complex, but they can be done. However, many web-based applications have so-called out-of-the-box integration that can connect multiple pieces of software to transmit predetermined pieces of information. For instance, your dispatching software could connect to QuickBooks Online, and after a work order is completed, it could send everything from your dispatching software automatically to QuickBooks Online for billing. This saves time-consuming data entry. 

Software also might boast of having application programming interface (API), which is a programming language that allows a programmer to write code that will pass information back and forth. There’s a difference between integrations that use software such as Zapier, Automate.io and Workato versus APIs. APIs typically have more full-power functionality for integrations but require more complex code writing that will involve a programmer.

Reports and Dashboards: There isn’t a lot that gets me more excited than pulling up a great-looking dashboard to know exactly what's going on in my business. Getting a quick snapshot and watching trends can help you to make quick decisions and more money.

What we find in our industry, unfortunately, is a common practice of waiting until it's too late to make decisions based off speculative information that we don't have. Good software will give you great reporting and great dashboards. Determine what’s important for you to monitor for your business and get up-to-the-minute reporting on it. Don't wait for reports of 30, 60, 90 days past and be reactive. Watch your data in real time and proactively make the right decisions.

Chad Lingafelt is managing partner of Loc-Doc Security in Charlotte, North Carolina. Loc-Doc Security is composed of a Locksmith and Door division, an Electronic Security division and The Lab, a digital content creation and software development division.