Goals. Start with a list of how you’ll put the software to use: payroll accounting, organizing invoices, tracking inventories, projecting production costs, etc. Solicit input from employees and members of the consulting team who will be using the program. “For example, if you’re thinking about purchasing a financial management or tax management program, ask your accountant and lender if the new software will be compatible with what they’re currently using,” Goodling says.
Resources. Determine if the software will be compatible with computer resources currently in place on the dairy. “Both hardware and software technology are changing at a rapid pace,” Goodling notes. “If you’re using a computer that’s several years old, you may have to invest in new hardware before you can take advantage of the software.”
Information. Check with other dairy producers to see what they’ve been using and whether they’re satisfied with the product. Pore through brochures and scour Web sites for additional product information. Find out from distributors and retailers if using the software on multiple computers will entail additional costs. “Likewise, ask how frequently upgrades will be available and what the cost of those upgrades is likely to be,” Goodling says.
Demo packages. Using demo/trial versions of software gives you a chance to determine how it fits with your needs before making a purchase. “Even the most expensive software isn’t going to do you a lot of good if it’s too difficult to use or doesn’t meet your needs,” Goodling says. He advises limiting the use of demos to two or three products. “Learning new software packages can be time-consuming and confusing,” he says.
Support. Check out phone and e-mail support services to make sure there are no hidden costs involved. Good-ling also advises taking advantage of the free online training guides and manuals that are available on the Web sites of software companies and some universities.