Boosting the Buying Skills at SkillsActive UK
Extract from an article published in research
Muriel Bankhead is Head of Research and Information at SkillsActive UK, the Sector Skills council responsible for promoting the development of skills and training in the active leisure and learning sector. An experienced clientside researcher, she was seeking a general-purpose research tool for her 4-strong in-house research team. They conduct around 25 surveys a year to forecast industry skill needs and map provision.
Muriel and her team engaged meaning to help them select the software they needed.
Muriel sees the odds loaded against the would-be purchaser to remain objective. She observes: “People often come in with their own pre-rehearsed demos and the real challenge is to make sure they have answered all your questions. It is so easy to lose sight of your requirements when you are concentrating on keeping up to speed with what they are showing you. The way it is demonstrated can be extremely persuasive and that can be a major benefit for the software providers. If they have the right salesman and a slick presentation they have probably got a better than average chance of persuading you to buy it, irrespective of its quality and suitability for the purpose.
“The downside of this is that you might end up with a system that is not suitable because you have bought the salesman — or not bought the salesman. Either is just as bad.”
Muriel cautions against taking too much of a leap of faith that the software will probably do what you want. You need to verify as much as you can before you buy. In fact, the SkillsActive team managed to identify several important deficiencies in the solutions they rejected, which would not have been apparent had they not defined their requirements in advance, and if one member of her team had not spent time, outside of the pitches, going through the demo software to get it to actually do what the suppliers claimed it would.
“It is important to have the discipline to sit down beforehand to work out what your requirements are. If you can, find an expert to advise you.”
Wise advice from Muriel Bankhead, SkillsActive UK
- Make sure you have a really disciplined process.
- Do call in an expert to advise you: this could be someone from within your organization, or an outside specialist.
- Sit down beforehand to work out what your requirements are.
- Find out what other researchers think about software products in practice.
- Take time to install and work though the demo version of the software, if one is available.
- Have a checklist of questions ready for the presentation.
- Check the compatibility of the software with your other systems and find out exactly how it is going to work.
- Check exactly what the price includes, how many licences, users, entitlement to support, upgrades and manuals, all of which may be extra.