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An Insiders List of 10 Things to Ask Before Buying Off-the-Shelf Training Software

By Brett Johnson
Posted Saturday, September 4, 2004

1.What the software priced determined by? Is it Per-Seat or Per-User or Per Processor?
The cost of software is determined in many ways. The two most popular are by seat or by concurrent user. Per Seat is determined how many seats in your company will be using the application, on the other hand Concurrent User is base on a set amount of users that can access the application. (Example 5 concurrent users = program can be installed on 20 machines but only a maximum of 5 can use the system.) Per-Processor is calculated on how many machines (pc’s or servers) the application will be running on. Larger enterprise applications use this method to determine their price.

2.What types of on-site services are included in the purchase?
Many companies charge a high price for their products and in the price would be included onsite support when if needed. But I have also experienced the other end where the company charges for any service above and beyond the software itself. Keep in mind when looking at companies that are local, they should provide this service at a minimum. This can make implementation streamlined and increase the likelihood of success, resulting in higher ROI.

3.Is there a guarantee of satisfaction with their software?
Most widely overlooked when purchasing. My experience has been that once the developer receives payment the software, it can take miracle to get a refund of any kind. I have seen cases were unsatisfied users will ask for it and send product back, and credit is partially returned, with the exception of restocking fees and other charges. It is very important to find this out up front in case you change your mind.

4.What is the turn around time for getting bugs fixed?
Some companies will say that as soon as you find an issue we will fix it, but there are others that will compile the list of bug fixes and release it on a scheduled basis. Neither path is better or worse, as longs as you are dealing with an upfront company, which stays true to their word. To know this upfront allows you to better handle the users of the applications and enables you to provide a more accurate time frame of when the issues will be resolved.

5.How often do updates go out, and do they notify customers?
Another widely overlooked key item, my experience has been that from a company that did not notify their clients when updates where out. The thinking was that if the client has a problem they will contact the developer, at that time the user will be informed of the update available. For reasons I care not detail in this article, this is something you want to avoid. The response you should get is, “ Would you like to be included on our list?” If not, you might want give second thought to your decision.

6.Is it scalable in design?
Applications that are scalable in design means that they can easily grow with your company, at minimal cost to you. Factors include user customizations, developer customizations, database structure, and customizable outputs, such as reports. Knowing this information at the time of purchase only allows for proper planning when the user expands or change hands.

7.How customizable is their system to meet your companies’ needs?
If you require customizations to the application to meet specific needs. This customization shouldn’t cost more than the 1/3 of the software purchase price to make. Going into an application knowing that you will need to make major changes should be a sign that you really need to look at all of your options: In-house development, outsourcing, partnering with software developers to cut price are some options.

8.What are the typical hurdles that we can expect with your application?
If the company is worth your time they should at least be able to warn you on the hurdles that they have seen in the past. My experience has been that companies don’t learn from their mistakes. They continually run into the same issues 2-3 more times before they take notice and consciously make an effort to avoid the problem in the future.

9.What are the hours of support and how does their support department operate?
Whether you are across town or on the other side of the world, if you need help and they are not open you are at a standstill. You should know if this company is passive or active when it comes to supporting their users. Key questions like will they only call you at certain hours or will you have to leave a message and then you will need to be that phone and wait for their return call. Finding this out early is always better then later when there is an urgent situation and you need a quick answer.

10.What is on the list to be included in the next update of the application?
If possible also request a time frame for the list. Before they say no let them know that you want to get an idea of what features you they might be including that you will need. This helps you the buyer in two ways; You know that a feature is coming down the pipe you can be sure that you put your weight behind it to make sure that it is included in the application as soon as possible. Along with that this will better let you understand the direction that the company is going, is their path dictated by the client requests or are they on their on path to get you to purchase add on features that you will never use?

About the Author
Brett Johnson is the principal advisory of Johnson Advisory Group. His years of experience includes IT management and supporting desktop employee health and safety applications. He has serviced hundreds of companies and government across the country. Specializing in employee health and safety and learning management he consultants and advises clients on the pitfalls software that is on the market.

Johnson Advisory Groups primary focus is assisting manufacturing and hospitality-based companies that lack resources to establish systems on their own.

If you would liked what you read here and would like to learn more about on-site or off-site learning management solutions, or other ways to leverage technology for your business, don't hesitate to contact Johnson Advisory Group, or e-mail Brett Johnson or visit (


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