ManagementSpeak: You are the perfect client for us and we are proud to be of service.

Translation: Dunn & Bradstreet assures us your checks will clear.

Dunn didn’t send in this week’s contribution. Neither did Bradstreet. And they aren’t going to. How about you?

It’s called “solution selection.”

There are those who grouse that we should stop the doublespeak and call it software selection.

Not me. We engage in this sort of thing because we have a problem that needs solving, after all (or, in happier circumstances, an opportunity that needs chasing). A software product by itself is, as logicians might put it, necessary but not sufficient for solving (or chasing) it.

The fundamentals for going about solution selection are, by now, well understood: When comparing the alternatives, evaluators should dig into: (1) Features and functionality — does the solution do what you need it to do? (2) Internal construction — is it built well? (3) Terms and Conditions — what will it cost, and beyond cost is contract and licensing language acceptable? (4) Vendor characteristics — is the seller financially viable and, almost as important, easy to work with?

The fundamentals are well understood, and yet the results, more often than not, are disappointing.

What goes wrong? What follows is just a starting list. I hope you and your fellow members of the KJR community will add to it in the Comments so we can, as the saying goes, all be smarter than any of us are.

So with that in mind, here’s my shortlist of hard-to-avoid solution selection gotchas:

Wrong selection: The selection is always wrong and has to be. No matter the depth of due diligence, some warts only appear when you implement. So you’ll see the awful reality of the selected solution. Everything else exists in the glorious world of brochureware. It’s a case of the grass always being greener under someone else’s GrowLux.

Each requirement vs all requirements: I’ve seen this a few times — a supplier’s products can handle every requirement the solution selection team has identified. Sadly, no one of the supplier’s products can handle them all, and the ones you need to cover everything aren’t integrated.

Feature scaling: A vendor can usually get its software to do what you need it to do. It can make it do something else you need it to do, too. But there’s often a limit on how many different something-else-you-need-it-to-do-toos their software can do at the same time, because really, what they’ll have to do to get their software do each of those things is a one-off. Doing them all makes it a kludge.

SaaS means not having to worry about the internals: Wrong! Saying that a software product’s internal engineering doesn’t matter because it’s SaaS is a lot like saying an airplane’s engineering doesn’t matter because someone else is flying it.

There’s a limit to how much of a solution’s internal engineering a provider will share. In the case of software what you probably care about the most is the data model. Explain what you need to know about each type of stuff the software will manage, and ask where that data gets stashed.

Terms, conditions, conditions about conditions, and conditions about conditions about conditions. Some software vendors still hide terms and conditions inside linked documents, inside documents linked to the linked documents, and so on ad infinitum. I guess it makes sense that if good software design means that modules invoke modules that invoke modules, that good software license design would be similar.

Regardless, some T&Cs can place unfortunate limits on what you can do with what you’re licensing. This is why you need lawyers.

Vendor from where? In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the good guy, stealing fire from the gods for humans to use. In Christian mythology, Lucifer (light-bringer) was guilty of pretty much the same crime, assuming you’re willing to overlook that little war-on-heaven peccadillo.

Some software vendors are more Lucifer than Prometheus (you were wondering where this was going, weren’t you?).

What can you do to anticipate this? References won’t get you there. Even the worst vendor will have a few customers who like it. The best you can do is ask around and hope a few people you trust have had experience with the vendors you’re considering.

What else can go wrong? Lots else can go wrong. As I said at the beginning of this column, this list is just for starters, and it doesn’t include any of the mistakes customers make while implementing the solution they’ve so painfully selected (for example, thinking they’re implementing the software and not changing the business).

So now it’s your turn. Jump to the Comments and share your insights as to what can go wrong while choosing the right solution.

The KJR community awaits your wisdom!