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The art of choosing the right product for business transformation

Author: Ravi Narayan Vishnubhotla, Senior Technology Architect

As part of the future-state architecture of IT transformation, certain business requirements need specialized IT applications. These could mandate newer technology systems or migrating from legacy technology platforms. As part of buy versus build evaluation, products that can address such requirements need to be identified.

However, just because there is a product, it cannot be purchased and implemented without determining the technology, cost, and business impact. Hence, an evaluation process needs to be conducted to compare the various products, features, costs, technologies, and business requirements; and also to understand how they compare against an in-house solution.

  1. Why do I need a product for business transformation? Can I just develop it in-house?

These questions seem pretty straightforward, but answers are not that simple. In short, the answer is 'yes', but it should be noted that any development requires expenses that must be approved. Once these estimates are submitted to the IT governance board and in-house architecture group, the following questions will be asked by peers: What is the basis of estimation?  What is the estimation model?  Did you comparison with other IT systems or products?  How much configuration and customization is needed?

To address these questions, it would be best to conduct a product / solution evaluation, especially for medium to large implementations to gain answers to some the above questions. The end result may be the selection of a product or a customized solution, but the approach taken will assure the IT governance board, business decision makers, and the vendor that the decision was right.

This approach, based on my experience,  is most suited for medium to large sized implementations. However, it can vary depending on businesses, markets, or requirements.

2.  What is the life cycle or the process?

The following diagrams illustrate the six-step life cycle to achieve comprehensive product evaluation:

Figure 1 - 6 steps to comprehensively evaluate products

Figure 2 - Details of steps to comprehensively evaluate products

3.  Any general guidelines?

The following provides key guidelines to follow while evaluating products:

  • Business needs must be incorporated during analysis, as they incorporate end user requirements 
  • It is mandatory to analyze product and implementation vendors to avoid buyer's remorse
  • Make sure to conduct this analysis only for medium to large technical implementations, as the effort and time is considerable and unnecessary for smaller ones
  • Avoid "Checklist Syndrome" (Definition - Process of determining best selection by an Y/N on features and not how well the feature is developed), and while comparing features with requirements, determine the level of the functionality and maturity
  • Consider cloud-based solutions (software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, etc. ) as they provide the capability to scale
  • Product implementation should have minimum customization

4. Examples of functionalities were products evaluation is needed?

  • Workflow / Case management
  • Document / Content management
  • Client communication management and printing
  • Accounting package
  • EAI - Enterprise Application Integration (message bus / queueing)
  • Batch scheduling and file automation
  • Customer relationship management
  • Application monitoring and instrumentation

Conclusion
The steps defined here are based on my experience of working with various clients. The process or approach can vary and will be different depending on the organization and industry. This is not a one-size-fits-all methodology, but should give you a fair idea as to what it takes to achieve product evaluation from an IT perspective.

Related blog: IT Transformation is Business Transformation! Why? How?

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