by C. A. Martin
November 2, 2011

Standardizing your company software and hardware . . . is it something you've even thought about?

Maybe you should, because standardization includes a number of benefits that would ultimately make your business more productive, maximize employee work time, and save you money year-after-year. When researching standardization, the same advantages are consistently cited:

  • Better communication-Standardization benefits communication between associates, departments and satellite offices, as well as making comparisons of data more efficient. As an example, let's say you have two or more locations using different programs to generate reportable data. Because it's received in different formats, making comparative analysis difficult, someone has to re-enter that information from every source into a single file before the people who need it can actually view it. Standardization means information is stored and generated from a reliable, single format, making both the sharing and reporting of data more timely and effective.
  • Reduced training time and costs-Because your associates are using a single software solution, it is easier to train, is more time-effective, and results in greater proficiency. When two or more applications are used, either between departments or offices, associates must be trained on each or must be retrained when transferred or moved. Standardized software means your associates spend time doing their jobs, not trying to learn how to do them.  
  • Lower support and maintenance costs-Take, as an example, the dollars spent maintaining and supporting two or more applications when a single, comprehensive software could offer you the advantages of multi-license and support discounts readily offered by most vendors. Standardization also saves your IT department maintenance and support time and it allows your end-users to become capable of supporting each other.
  • Easier budgeting and cost management-With standardization, software licensing is easier to oversee and budgeting is easier to forecast and create, resulting in more easily regulated departmental spending.
  • Better bargaining power with your vendor-When dealing with a single vendor for a sizeable purchase (whether for software and/or hardware), you have more clout. Because your business is now more valuable to them, a vendor is more likely to deal to your advantage, allowing discounts and other benefits to ensure a lasting relationship.

Once you've decided to standardize, you need to take into account the following:

  • Select the right places to standardize-There may be a department whose needs can't be met with the solution you choose. A single department or division may be so specialized that they simply need different software. Examine the overall needs of all your departments and standardize where it makes the most sense and where the most benefits can be gained.
  • Listen to your users-How well is the current software answering their needs? What aspects would they change? What reporting capabilities do they have now? Which ones would they like to have? Ensure the various software solutions you select for evaluation have the capability of meeting your current needs, as well as anticipated future needs. 
  • Assign participation in the evaluation process-At least one associate from each department you anticipate standardizing should be part of the new software evaluation process. This allows your associates to "buy in" to the process and allows them a voice as progress moves forward. It's a pretty safe bet that any changes management attempts to make to a user's normal working pattern will be met with resistance. Conflicts of this type can be greatly reduced when associates become a part of the selection process.
  • Document your standardization guidelines-After discussion and analysis, document your requirements, including both general and detailed requirements of the software and hardware needed to successfully implement your solution. Use this documentation when selecting vendors to insure their solution meets your needs. For the sake of a good sale and a happy customer, some vendors are willing to immediately customize certain features or include needed features in future upgrades. If you've thoroughly documented what you need and why, a vendor may be more willing to make concessions on your behalf.
  • Set a realistic timetable for the change-Create a timeline for implementation and rollout and stick to it! 
  • Ensure you've set aside sufficient resources-Expenditure of both time and money must be realistically budgeted for the purchase, hardware installation, software implementation and the training of your associates.Once you've selected a solution, test it-Get feedback from your users, and when you implement the software, take it slow. Evaluate your initial implementation and use that information to insure that later installations go even more smoothly.

Standardization can have its drawbacks, and it's worthwhile mentioning a couple here. The world of computers and software can change very quickly and, unfortunately, there's always the chance that if you go with one vendor-whether it's for your software, hardware or both-and that vendor is purchased by another, the product line you're using could end up discontinued, obsolete or "orphaned." Also, when you tie yourself to one vendor, you could end up stuck with that vendor and over time, lose your bargaining power because they're aware you have limited options.

A good idea is to look for vendors with a stable company history and who can give you references currently using their solution in the same manner in which you will be using it.  In addition, look for companies that don't have mandatory annual support or service fees. Not only does this give you a bargaining chip with which to negotiate at renewal time, but it ensures that your data will still be accessible if you choose not to subscribe to their support program. These concerns are worth discussing with the software and hardware vendors you anticipate using.  Make a point to explore the various safeguards they offer in just these types of situations.

Standardizing your software and hardware isn't a quick fix.  It's a long-term solution that takes planning and time, but in the long run, the benefits it ultimately provides in efficient time usage and additional bottom line dollars makes the effort well worth it.  Think about it. Maybe it's time to raise your standards.

Construction Business Owner, March 2007