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More and more, leading companies are choosing to integrate cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions in their business processes. In fact, according to Finance Online’s 2018 SaaS Industry Market Report, 73 percent of organizations say nearly all of their apps will be SaaS by 2020.

That’s a huge percentage, but maybe not surprising considering the many benefits that enterprise software solutions can have on a company’s success. Competitive intelligence (CI) software especially can give companies huge advantages over their competitors. But as CI solutions grow in complexity, it becomes increasingly overwhelming to find the best solution for your business.

Luckily, we’ve developed a painless process for evaluating the many software options and choosing the tool that works best for you. By considering these 11 key factors, you’ll be able to make smarter software decisions for your company.

11 Steps to Choosing a Competitive Research Enterprise Software Solution

1. Identify and document objectives

Before you can choose a CI solution, you have to define your goals and expectations for the software. Ask yourself:

  • What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • How do we expect CI to help us solve this problem?
  • What criteria should we use to measure the ROI of the new software?

Be realistic and thorough when addressing these questions, and make a list of the most important objectives.

2. Build an evaluation team of key personnel

Next, figure out who the stakeholders will be in making this decision. Companies who are most satisfied with their decision tend to choose a team with a mix of core users, decision makers, department representatives, and knowledgeable information technology people. Typically a buyer team is comprised of 5-7 people. However, enterprise companies often have entire teams dedicated to procurement or vetting new software solutions.

The size of this team will depend on the size of your organization, but it’s important that nobody makes the software purchasing decision in a silo — a good practice for any big business purchasing decision, really.

3. Outline technical and security requirements

Do not skip this step. By defining these requirements in advance, you can weed out the CI systems unable to meet your company’s requirements and save yourself a lot of time in the long run. There is nothing worse than falling in love with a new software solution and being excited to start using that tool only to find out that your IT or corporate guidelines won't allow you to move forward.

Every vendor you consider should be able to tell you how the platform is delivered, whether or not it works with single-sign-on (SSO), if it can house all of the information you’re currently using and whether or not it offers any additional data that you don’t currently have access to. Some companies impose fairly strict security requirements on these features, so check with your IT department and make sure they’re compatible.

4. Prioritize your data inputs

Think about what information you need to access in order to do an effective analysis of each solution. Evaluate what data sources exist in the CI solution and what can or should be added to it.

Data needs will differ based on your industry and business model, so ask yourself: Are there industry-specific datasets you need access to? Do you need to collect data from employees? Do you need detailed financial data about your competitors?

5. Define systems outputs

Define the outputs that you and your management team will be expecting from this system. Ask yourself:

  • How does your team consume information?
  • What outputs do you produce (reports, charts, newsletters, etc.)?
  • What types of deliverable do you want to automate?

You’ll need to have a clear understanding of these outputs in order to choose the right CI solution.

6. Map your existing workflow

The most successful CI software implementations are those in which the software closely mimics the way your employees already work. Ultimately, this will make it more likely for your employees to adopt the new software.

Think about the existing processes that should be copied in the solution’s workflow, whether or not these processes could improve with a CI solution and which tools users should have at their disposal to reduce the learning curve.

7. Determine a level of customization

Think about how you want your tool customized. Software customization comes in two types:

  • Vendor customizations are usually fee-based and involve multiple complex customizations.
  • User-customizations typically cost less but take more time or technical skill to implement.

A vendor-customizable system may work well for a large organization with the budget to maintain it. Consider the goals and budget of your own business to figure out which option is right for you.

8. Control access to information

It's important to consider how you'll need to control user access to information and whether or not your chosen solution will support that control. What kind of information will your CI system contain? Who will use and share that information? What kind of permissions levels will the information require?

Ask potential vendors about how they handle information security, and work with a member of your IT team to define existing protocol for this security.

9. Understand the meaning of “analytics”

The IT market is flooded with buzzwords like "data analytics," "big data," "artificial intelligence," "natural language processing" and more. Before you settle on a CI solution, understand what these terms mean and how they apply to your software.

Consider whether or not your team would benefit from things like data visualization tools, keyword trees or advanced analytics to organize information. For some, these features would offer great advantages, but it all depends on your business and your goals.

10. See it in action

Once you've narrowed it down to your top 3-5 choices, set aside some time for live demonstrations of each. This will help you get an initial feel for the different software solutions and give you the opportunity to ask questions and narrow your list even further.

Be sure to ask things like: What is the vendor's methodology? Have they implemented the solution in similar companies? Is training for your team on using the system included? These are key things to consider when choosing the right CI enterprise software solution.

11. Set a budget

Sometimes, the choice between two or three options ultimately comes to price. It shouldn't be the only factor, of course, but it's generally a best practice to have a figure in mind before you start reaching out to vendors — this will prevent you from wasting time and effort looking at a solution you can't afford.

If possible, work with vendors whose pricing system is clearly available on their website and easy to understand. There are tons of options for pricing out there, but you should be able to find a solution that meets your needs without breaking your budget.

Think critically before committing

Choosing a competitive intelligence enterprise software solution can be a long and complex process. But the more care and attention you put into weighing the many options against your company's needs and goals, the easier it will be to make the decision.

A robust and well thought out evaluation will ultimately make the difference between a successful software implementation and an unsuccessful one. Don't be overwhelmed — follow these 11 steps and you'll be on your way to making better, smarter decisions for your company.

Download the Guide: Selecting the Right Competitive Intelligence Software Solution