Publisher's Page: Do You Understand the True Cost of Automation?

Posted on October 1, 2003 by Sara Eastwood-McLean - Also by this author

Last year our parent company was awarded the management contract for the National Limousine Association. I was in charge of setting up the offices and facilitating the transitional phase of this project. One of the first priorities was to purchase an association management software package – un-chartered water for me.

I went on the Internet and did some company research. I contacted other associations and the American Society of Association Executives and finally decided on a brand of software. Never having considered what went into software development, I was horrified at the package price.

The next step was to schedule the installation. I’m thinking this will take a few days. Not so. The software company needed two months to customize the program to pull specific reports and my not being clear on which kinds of reports we needed didn’t help the process.

It took several meetings and many phone conversations over the course of three weeks before the program was installed. Then, I had to have the staff trained outside of the offices and again inside the offices, which is something I wasn’t prepared for. It didn’t stop there.

There was a full year of non-stop tweaking of the program. Then came the “service fee” invoices. My reaction, of course, was, “What is a service fee? We paid a small fortune for the program and now we have to pay a yearly charge to get the thing to work?” I felt blind-sided.

This year it was suggested that we purchase an Internet module for the software program. While it was considered by all to be necessary, to me this was just another can of worms complete with more down time, more interruptions and more money (the basic cost plus $150 an hour for technical support).

We went “live” this past May and lo and behold the web program didn’t work. It was mayhem. Frantic member calls inundated the NLA office. The staff was up in arms, the Bobit Web Department and MIS manager were frustrated and the NLA Technology Committee wanted answers!

On that crazy day it occurred to me that a computer-illiterate like me, buying software, was akin to someone blindly investing in stocks. How stupid! I realized that I needed an education in software to better articulate our needs and thus make sound decisions.

I needed to know the realities of the costs involved, including time, training, upgrades, and service because it’s unrealistic to expect all this to come from the vendor. After all, everyone has his or her own degree of techno-savvy.

When I truly investigated my situation, I learned a great deal. Today, I have an entirely new perspective on software and it’s not a bad one at all. I know what to expect. And, that is the moral of my story.

It’s not enough to do research on the actual software program or vendor – you must take responsibility to educate yourself on the entire automation process. If you budget the right amount of training, transitional time and know all of your costs up front, you won’t be caught off guard by unexpected surprises.

Moreover, you need to be able to communicate your company’s specific needs so you get the right software fit.

Let me tell you, it’s so nice to be able to appreciate the efficiencies that software offers rather than feel betrayed by the computer industry at large!


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