Our friend Susan, a fictitious school nutrition director, recently made some changes to her district’s school nutrition program by implementing online applications. However, Susan doesn’t believe this is enough to make her program more efficient so she has set out to find a new school nutrition software. Susan knows proper evaluation is the key to finding a software that is the perfect fit for any school nutrition program. Purchasing new software is a major investment in time and money. Thus, Susan must take this process very seriously and be as thorough as possible. Susan has decided to look at evaluation from three sides; the needs, the alternatives, and the features. Let’s see what she discovers as we follow along on her software evaluation journey.
Evaluate your needs
Before delving into the software evaluation process Susan first sat down and assessed what her current system is and is not doing. With her current system Susan struggles with integration. She wishes her software would allow menu planning to work directly with inventory, such as allowing her to automatically calculate ingredients measurements rather than doing it by hand, but hers doesn’t. This is one of Susan’s pain points which causes headaches each time. However, your problems are not always this easy to see. Sometimes, you don’t even know what you are missing until you see what other software solutions have to offer. For example, Susan didn’t realize other software would allow her POS system to work offline. After seeing this Susan had an epiphany and realized this was a definite need for her school nutrition program because of the peace of mind it provides Susan. She no longer has to worry about losing information during a network failure because the feature holds it until the network and data can be consolidated.
What features are valuable?
After watching several demos and seeing the features of some software Susan realized she needed to decide which features were important. The features she was investigating were not things she needed, but rather elements that would add something to her district’s program. Many software companies tried to lure Susan in with their fancy, new features that seemed to have it all (including the big price tag!) however, Susan was wise enough to realize that these added no value. She knew the fancy features should not entice her into purchasing a product that does make her life better. The types of questions Susan asked herself when learning about software features were:
- Will it make things easier for her staff?
- Will it help lower costs?
- Will it help reduce wastage?
- Will it help her program be more compliant with regulations?
- Will it help grow participation?
If the answers to these questions were no, then Susan chose to place that product in the “No” list.
The price is not always right
Just like any other school nutrition director, budget is extremely important to Susan. She believes it is in her best interest to stick to a certain number. However, after beginning the evaluation process Susan was disappointed to find out her budget would not allow her to meet all needs. It became evident that while budget was important, price should not be the deciding factor when it comes to school nutrition software. Susan asked herself, “Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of new software to buy something that is cheap but doesn’t meet my needs?” From then on Susan was devoted to being budget conscious but no longer limiting her search due to price. One strategy she decided to employ during the search for the perfect software was creating a list of her most critical needs. As Susan evaluated each software she plans to verify that the most important needs are being met while hopefully staying within her bottom line.
Look at all the options
While Susan thought the answer to her software dilemma was clear she made a wise choice and chose not limit herself to that one product. Instead she took the time to thoroughly review the websites of other school nutrition software companies. Susan would also take the time to solicit experiences and suggestions from other districts like her own. When she found a company that appeared to meet her needs she requested a demo. By watching these demos and learning from the software sales team Susan had the opportunity to see what alternative companies can give her that she is not currently receiving. Exploring all her options allowed Susan to evaluate every aspect of the various school nutrition software.
Throughout the course of her software evaluation Susan learned the importance of being open-minded, exploring all options, and knowing her needs. Because she kept all of these things in mind, Susan is confident that she made the best software choice and will not regret the time and money she invested. Susan knows everyone handles software evaluation differently and each district must tailor their process to their own needs. However, this is what worked best for her. How did you handle your new software evaluation, or if you have one coming up, how are you planning to do it?