With so many software providers promising you the world, and so many solutions to choose from, how do you decide which provider is going to be the right fit for you and your organisation?

To help you better evaluate the merits of the software solution you are considering, here are 15 suggestions regarding what questions you may like to ask.

1. How long has the company been in the business?

In recent years, new software providers have been popping up across the social care industry at an alarming rate. When sorting through the sales and marketing hype, it’s important to choose a provider with a long track record and solid reputation. Be sure to ask when the company was established, how long they have been in the business, and most importantly, how long they’ve specialised in social care software. You want to ensure the company is going to be with you long after the sale.

2. Does the company specialise in software for social care?

Software providers offering off-the-shelf solutions do not understand social care and are not empathetic to the challenges the sector faces, such as an ageing workforce and staff shortages, when it comes to implementing technology. It is important to find out how well a prospective software provider understands these challenges and how they plan to overcome them during the process of implementing the solution.

3. How does the company approach product development and innovation?

Technology is advancing at rocketing speeds so there is a risk that the software you implement could become outdated faster than you had initially prepared for. You don’t want to discover that in five years’ time that you’re left with expensive software and hardware that you will have to replace – all because your provider adopts a regressive approach to investing in technology.

To get a clear idea of the software provider’s approach to product development and innovation, ask them to take you through their product roadmaps. What plans do they have in place for product development and future upgrades? Do they have a team focused on product development? What is their policy regarding piloting and investing in new programs? Are they pioneering any new technologies? How will the software evolve as your own needs change?

4. What is the client retention rate?

A provider that delivers high service levels and value will always retain a solid base of satisfied clients so be sure to ask what the software provider’s rate of client retention is.

5. Can you supply success stories and references?

Unfortunately, too many software providers over-promise and under-deliver, which is why you need to know that the proposed solution works as well in practice, as it does in theory. A reputable software provider will be happy to show you success stories of existing clients that demonstrate real results. Better yet, ask to speak with existing clients about their own experiences with the provider.

6. Who else do you partner with?

It’s also important to seek out a software provider with the strongest capabilities and credibility. A provider with a strong network of credible partners, industry connections, reputable clients, as well as credentials and achievements will improve your chances for achieving long-term success. Ask what leading technology providers they partner with? What awards have they achieved? Are they well-connected and highly regarded in the industry?

7. Does the provider’s values align with your own?

Of all the things to look for in a software provider, this is probably one of the commonly overlooked. Partnering with a provider that shares similar values as your own organisation goes a long way in ensuring the relationship is in for the long haul. The better a provider understands your organisation, the better they can help to ensure your ongoing success. If integrity, accountability and respect are values that your organisation identifies closely with, try to choose a software provider with the similar ethics.

8. What level of ongoing support can we expect to receive?

Be sure that the software provider will offer you an adequate level of ongoing, personalised support as part of the service agreement. Prospective software providers should also offer multiple support channels by telephone, online and via email.

9. How well does the software solution address our specific requirements?

By this stage, you should have already spent considerable time defining the functional requirements that you expect the new software solution to either contain or enable. Fundamentally, the right software solution for your organisation is the one that most effectively addresses each of your predefined requirements.

It’s important to share this list of functional requirements with prospective software providers, and request that they specifically demonstrate how their solution complies with each requirement. How does the solution score against your ‘essential’, ‘desirable’ and ‘nice to have’ requirements? Be clear and be realistic about the functional requirements.

Does the software have the capacity to produce the reports you need? Can data and information be easily exported? Does it track and record changes made by staff in an accurate audit trail? How easy is the software to use and navigate? How many users/computers can access the software?

If these are not well defined from the beginning or misunderstood by your provider, the probability of achieving your goals will be minimised.

10. Is the software solution scalable?

In a few years’ time, your organisation will have evolved considerably so it is vital that the technology and software you invest in today can scale accordingly. After all, the last thing you want to be faced with is the need to re-evaluate and invest in an entirely new solution when the system in place is unable to handle your growing needs.

Take the time to properly understand the level of configuration and scalability the proposed software solution offers. Does it have the capacity to be able to scale to suit your needs and grow with you? Will the provider help you to configure the solution in a way that suits your model of care? How easy can the solution be scaled? What will be the costs involved in scaling the solution?

11. How easily will the software integrate with key external suppliers?

When evaluating the functional capacity of a potential software provider, it’s worth finding out from the start, how easily the new software will integrate with third-party suppliers. For example, does the provider have relationships in place with key suppliers in the social care sector such as pharmacies?

From a hardware perspective, be sure to determine whether the solution will work in with your existing infrastructure and technology or if you will need to upgrade your hardware as well.

12. How much is the investment?

Unfortunately, price is not always an accurate indicator of quality. For this reason, it’s never a good idea to purchase new software based on the price factor alone. Instead, evaluate the proposed solution based on how well it delivers on the functional requirements, what it will achieve for you in the long term, and the overall commitment to training and implementation. There’s no point investing in new software – regardless of the cost – unless the provider will partner with you through the entire change management process.

Always be sure to always check for any hidden or additional fees in the fine print. In particular, be mindful of additional costs that may relate to:

  • Number of product users and the number of sites using the solution
  • Setup or annual maintenance fees
  • Upgrade options and costs
  • Recurrent licensing costs

13. What levels of security are in place?

Whether you’re just looking to make upgrades to existing software, or planning to switch to an entirely new electronic system, it is essential to ask the tough questions around data and security.

Find out from the software provider where your data will be stored. Find out what security measures are in place to protect that data and whether or not they meet the data privacy requirements for the social care industry. Additionally, how often does the provider back up the data and test their recovery procedures? Is there a disaster recovery plan in place? It also helps to understand how updates, upgrades and scheduled maintenance is managed and how this may affect your business.

14. What kind of training and support do you provide?

When it comes to successfully facilitating the implementation of new technology and software, a dedicated change management approach with appropriate communication, training and ongoing support for staff is essential. It’s important that your software provider can offer you the right level of training and ongoing support to ensure that you and your staff get the most out of the software.

Additional questions to consider asking may include: Do you provide adequate training programs? Do you have dedicated training consultants? How do you assist in the development of competency in computer basics, prior to software training? Do you offer ‘train the trainer’ programs to equip staff with the skills to train and support others in your organisation? How will you support our organisation after we sign the contract? What level of support is included in the contract? Will support be available on an ongoing basis or as necessary?

15. What mix of skills and knowledge does your team have?

Throughout the process of product evaluation, you would have been dealing extensively with the sales and business development teams. Beyond the sale, it is the rest of the team that you will come to rely on. So get to know the support, training, implementation and administrative staff of a software provider to ensure they have the right mix of skills and knowledge to be able to ensure your ongoing success.

When asking the prospective software provider about the wider team, look for a team that is diverse in professional backgrounds, a blend of technical and industry experiences, ideas, opinions, and points of view.

Are there any questions we’ve missed? Please let us know in the comments section below. 

(Image credit: Master Isolated Images)