Investing in IT: Part 2 – Your business software solutions
In Part 1 of this blog series, we looked at initial IT infrastructure terminology and concepts, and how technology should act as a facilitator to your business through formulating an IT strategy.
In this post, we will go further into software solutions available to businesses to create an IT infrastructure that works for you.
Starting with software
The starting point for your IT investment is your software. A large proportion of your expenditure will go on licences and support for your core applications. Further, your hardware requirements will also be, to an extent, dictated by your software requirements. So is the way in which your business, and where applicable your customers, interact with your applications.
There are two main types of software. System software, such as a device’s operating system, deals with the management of the hardware itself. Application software on the other hand, is the end user program which enables the user to complete specific tasks. This is where our focus will be.
As application software is often designed for a specific task or set of tasks, you will need to invest in a number of different applications, or suite of applications, to enable and develop user productivity.
There are many ways application software can be categorised. At a broad level, the types of applications a business may need include:
Word processing and spreadsheet software (such as Word and Excel as part of the Microsoft Office suite of applications)
Accounting and payroll software
Document and client relationship management systems
Utilities (such as antivirus)
Most hardware will have system and basic application software pre-packaged and already installed. Depending on your requirements, some of these pre-bundled applications may be plenty to carry out basic tasks and workflows, otherwise a lot of products with greater functionality can be purchased off-the-shelf. There are also solutions which allow or require an element of customisation by someone with the expertise in that software package, allowing the solution to be tailored towards your specific requirements.
There are many benefits in finding the right products from the outset, for example:
Streamlining workflows and cutting costs through automation
Measuring productivity outcomes of work and staff
Improving communication and collaboration internally and externally
Using solutions to demonstrate the technical know-how of your business
Categorising your software requirements will help you identify the collection of software your business requires. Avoid overlap in functionalities and utilise as many features of the application as you can. Capterra.com is a great website designed to help you find the right software for your business, with over 400 categories of software which can be browsed, searched and compared.
The way in which software is usually offered to customers is through the software developer (or a reseller) selling a licence to use that product. In other words, when you purchase a piece of software, you agree to the end-user licence agreement (EULA).
As a customer, you rarely have a say over the terms of the EULA, and are usually required to accepted them as-is. EULAs should still be read carefully to ensure your business can use the software in accordance with the terms. There is scope for negotiation in certain IT agreements, and this will be covered later in the series.
The EULA is designed to govern the customer’s use of the product. It will usually include provisions to ensure that the product is not copied of resold. This is to protect not only the developer’s rights over the product, but also to avoid fake or faulty software being sold to further customers (known as software piracy). It is critical that businesses purchase software from reputable developers and resellers, as severe damage can be caused by the use of pirated software packages, as well as introducing your business to security risks and potential legal actions.
Software licences come in different forms, and customers are often free to decide which type of licence suits their business best. Each licensing model has benefits and shortfalls, and can vary significantly in cost. It is up to the individual business to decide on the most appropriate licensing model for them. Common types of licensing include:
Proprietary licence – where the developer grants a right to use the software, whilst retaining ownership of it
Perpetual licence – a single payment which permits use of the software indefinitely
Non-perpetual or annual licences – where the customer pays to lease the software and renews the lease at specified periods of time
Workstation or device licences – permits the use of the software on a single device
Concurrent use or user licences – where a user can install the software on more than one device owned by them
Maintenance or software assurance licence – usually in combination with a non-perpetual / annual licence, entitling the user to new versions of the software and user support.
It is good practice to maintain records and documentation as proof of purchase. This can be referenced for auditing purposes, or where you would like to install the software on a new piece of hardware if, for example, your previous hardware becomes faulty.
Installation and upgrades
We will briefly touch on installation of software, although this will be dealt with in detail as we come onto investing in IT hardware and services.
To save time and money, many off-the-shelf software packages are now available to download from the internet (unlike the days of having to purchase CDs from your local computer store). Installation is often straightforward, but always worth following the steps carefully to avoid any issues with the application once installed.
Keeping software up to date is essential. It ensures you have the latest application features, that it continues to work on new hardware and operating systems, and that it remains interoperable with other applications. Most importantly, updating software fixes potential stability issues and security vulnerabilities through bug fixes and patches.
Your Business and Software solutions
Documenting your software requirements, and outlining your business processes and workflows are good steps to take early on. It will help highlight ways you can improve existing methods of working, and how you can increase productivity as your business grows. List your core requirements and those which would be nice to have to enable you to compare them against any applications you shortlist for purchase. Investing a little more in maintenance and support contracts is often worthwhile. It ensures you are running the latest versions of applications, and have expertise on hand if anything goes wrong with your core applications – minimising downtime and ensuring business continuity.