After documenting requirements and reviewing vendor proposals, your association is ready to evaluate the database management software solutions and vendors that made the final cut. Since you’re the sole IT professional in the room, your colleagues naturally look to you for guidance.
No worries, we’ve got your back. Here is a list of factors to consider and questions to ask when evaluating database management software.
Software Vendor’s Company History and Reputation
Your membership software is a foundational component of your technology ecosystem. The firm you select as your partner must be managed and staffed by people you can like and trust. You’re entering a partnership, not a transaction.
Do you have compatible values and concerns? Decide what’s most important to your organization’s culture in case these questions don’t resonate with you.
- Where are you both on the innovation spectrum?
- How committed are you both to your staff’s professional development?
- How purpose-driven are both your cultures?
- How serious are you both about cybersecurity and protecting data?
Do your due diligence on the company. You want to be sure they’ll stick around to support your technology and have the funds to invest in research and development.
- How long have they been in business?
- How financially stable are they?
- How deep and long-standing is their client base?
How experienced and knowledgeable are they about your business? Find a technology partner that already understands member-based operations, governance, lines of business, processes, membership models, revenue issues, and other 21st century challenges.
- How long have they been working with member-based organizations?
- What percentage of their client base are member-based organizations?
- Do they work with clients that share some of your organization’s particular traits, such as company memberships or chapter networks?
- What percentage of their client-facing staff have membership management experience?
- Do they belong to, participate in, and support ASAE, CSAE, and/or state SAE programs and events?
Find out about their relationships with other technology partners.
- Have they frequently worked with other technology partners on integration?
- What do your current technology partners (vendors and consultants) have to say about them? Have they worked with them on integration or implementation?
Customer Satisfaction & Happiness
Find out how other member-based organizations are using the software and whether the software (and support) has met their expectations. Keep in mind, there are two sides to every story.
- Read the vendor’s case studies.
- Find out what past and current clients say on ReviewMyAMS. If something you read is bothersome, ask the vendor about it.
- Ask your network of peers for stories about their experience with the vendor.
A critical part of the due diligence process is talking to client references—clients the vendor lists as references and clients they don’t list. Use the same list of questions for every vendor reference so you can compare “apples to apples.” Here are a sampling of questions to ask.
- Did your project stay on budget and on schedule? If not, why?
- How did they work with other vendors on integration?
- How well did they communicate during the project?
- How responsive are they?
- Describe the typical path from reporting an issue to resolving it.
- What are their strengths and weaknesses as a technology partner?
- Would you do it all over again with them? Why/why not?
Platform Flexibility & Configurability
Your database management software must be built on a flexible platform so it can grow with you as your organization’s needs evolve and as technology changes. You want a platform that can be configured to meet your business needs and yet allow you to stay on the upgrade path.
Choose configuration over customization. Configuration enables you to change the behavior of the system without modifying the underlying core code. You can “plug in” new functionality and modules that enhance the system without changing it.
On the contrary, customization requires developers to rewrite the core code so they can change how the system functions—and that will add to your budget. Customization usually doesn’t allow for a seamless and affordable upgrade path.
How configurable is the software?
- Do they have out-of-the-box applications and/or modules that meet your business needs, for example, event management, committee management, and inventory?
- Can you add your own functionality? What programming is required to do that?
- Can you make these configurations on an as-needed basis or do they require support from the vendor?
- Will it allow you to run your most critical business processes?
Ask the vendor to demonstrate the extent of possible configuration:
- Examples of simple, moderate, and complex functionality that map to your needs.
- Adding new fields, tables, forms, and validations.
- Updating a data view.
- Give the vendor a typical workflow and ask them to demonstrate how to build and run it.
Find out how the upgrade process affects configurations.
- How do your configurations get upgraded?
- Are they naturally preserved in the upgrade process or do they need to be reapplied to the upgraded system?
- If they have to be reapplied, how long does that process typically take?
Migration & Implementation Process
Ask vendors to walk your team through the discovery, data migration, implementation, and training processes. See if you can get a sense of the extent of the guidance and support you’ll receive from them.
- Do they speak in technical jargon or use language you understand?
- Do they anticipate your concerns and worries?
- Do they patiently answer all questions?
Ask them to explain their process for understanding your functional requirements and business processes.
- Do they have experience leading the discovery process with clients?
- Do they provide advice to clients about existing business processes?
- Who is responsible for what on both your teams?
- Are they giving your team enough information about the work that lies ahead for them?
- What type of project timeline are they proposing?
Find out what you need to know about data migration—a phase of the project that can take more time than anticipated by many associations. The duration and cost of data migration is determined by the amount of data you have, the number of data sources, and the cleanliness of your data.
- Ask when you should get started on data cleansing. (Hint: their answer should be “right away, don’t wait for selection.”)
- Discuss the data sets you plan to migrate: data sources, types of data, and how you use that data. To produce an accurate proposal, the vendor must understand the complexity of the data migration project.
- Ask the vendor about their history of migrating data from multiple systems.
- Ask for their advice on data migration: what should go and what should remain in archive or look-up tables.
- Ask if your staff will test functionality on dummy data or actual data.
Your membership software is part of an ecosystem of software and vendor partners.
- Will their software interact and integrate with your existing systems?
- Have they integrated with these systems before?
- What about your custom-built systems?
- Ask the vendor to discuss their APIs and any functional or price considerations you should know about.
Find out about the vendor’s implementation team.
- Who’s on their implementation team and what are their roles?
- What are their qualifications and experience?
- What else will members of the implementation team be working on while involved with your implementation?
How will the project be managed from their end?
- Who is the vendor’s project manager and what’s their experience? Make sure your association has your own project manager to oversee progress on your end.
- How is project scope managed and communicated?
- How often will you review project status?
- Is there a regular check-in between their execs and your execs?
- How are problems handled? What is the escalation process?
Training is a critical element of the implementation process—and it doesn’t end when the system goes live. Find out about expenses related to training during implementation and in the years ahead.
- What type of training do you offer during implementation?
- What about ongoing training?
- Do you have training for different types of end users and different levels of experience?
- Is training onsite, virtual, or both?
- Do you offer training resources online?
- Do you have an online community for software users?
- Do you have a user conference?
Future Growth Potential
Your investment in database management software is for the long-haul. If your needs change in a few years, you shouldn’t have to consider replacing the software.
- Have you had a conversation with the vendor about possible futures for your organization? Are they interested in how your needs might change in the future?
- Does the vendor have a history of innovation? Do they invest in research and development?
- What does their product roadmap look like?
- How often is the software upgraded?
- How simple will it be to upgrade the software? What is the typical time, effort, and cost required? Do they offer fixed-price upgrades?
- Can you do upgrades yourself or does the vendor have to do it?
The answers to these questions will help you and your colleagues evaluate the competence and compatibility of a membership software vendor and their database management software. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, check out our guide, The IT Vendor Evaluation Checklist