Most businesses mistake software for a "tool." A tool has a particular function but no perspective. A hammer, for example, is agnostic. It isn't made with an opinion about when, how, and why a carpenter should hammer things. The tool adapts to the user.
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With business software, you're not buying a tool – you're buying a philosophy about how your business should run. The software has features and functions like a tool, but these features and functions reflect an opinion about the workflows, relationships, and data that lead to success.
The "tool mindset" stifles business transformation because it assumes that software will cure problems without requiring a company to change. The "philosophical mindset" of software embraces transformation; it makes software a blueprint for changing the company.
Over the past five years of leading Talent Rover, I've worked with boutique, midsize, and enterprise staffing and recruitment businesses, including the industry's largest firm. In every case, I find that the more a company adapts to its recruitment software, the more of a competitive edge it gains.
That observation might sound counterintuitive. Don't most software vendors try to adapt to their customers? "We'll modify or customize anything you want," they'll often say.
While that sounds like good service, I would argue that heavy customization is often a disservice. It often encourages businesses to preserve their worst habits and processes rather than transform.
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The Pitfalls of Complete Customization
Consider that many companies have built their workflows around the shortcomings of old software. At many staffing and recruitment firms, for example, entering and reentering data in multiple applications becomes a process because the systems don't talk to each other. Using a whiteboard for per diem staffing becomes accepted because the existing software can't cope with the chaotic scheduling process. Saving resumes to a database doesn't become a process because the database lacks a reliable method for searching resumes. Years after we adopt a workflow of workarounds, we can forget why we did so in the first place.
A firm might buy new software but ask the vendor to duplicate all the workflows created to circumvent archaic software. In other words, the firm revises the philosophy of its new software to resemble that of the old software. By treating software like a tool that should adapt to their business, these firms amplify rather than solve their problems. The company can't transform while doubling down on its existing ways.
Transformation Requires Adaptation
How do you evaluate and implement new software without becoming trapped in the philosophy of the existing?
First, reflect on why your business operates the way it does. If you adapted to the philosophy of the new software platform, how would your workflows change? Would you make more money?
When I say "adapt," I don't mean that you should give up the strategies that distinguish your business from others. Not at all. Adaptation involves refining old processes or adopting new ones to make those strategies more effective. In staffing, that might mean embracing new workflows that automate scheduling or digitize onboarding. The faster processes produce more placements in less time, which equates to more revenue and happier candidates and clients.
Second, ensure that the people who make the software understand your industry. I prefer to buy accounting software from people with extensive accounting experience, and I urge recruiters to purchase recruitment software from people who have done the job. The philosophy of recruitment software reflects the experience of the people who designed it. Buying recruitment software from non-recruiters is like hiring graphic designers to manage your investment portfolio. Why would that go well?
Third, and most importantly, consider this question: Would you have to change more than 20 percent of a software product to make it work for you? If so, either your business isn't willing to adapt, or it's the wrong software.
Excessive customization is more of a sales strategy than a service. The vendor willing to rewrite 50 percent of its product doesn't stand behind its own philosophy (presuming it even has one).
Tools have features and functions. Real business software has a perspective on how to make your business more efficient, effective, and profitable. It reflects the professional experience of the designers and collective wisdom they've gained through serving your industry.
In 2017, stop buying hammers and start buying philosophies. Choose software vendors that have visions for transforming your business.
Brandon Metcalf is founder, COO, and president of Talent Rover.