Mar 01

Guest blog: 5 things to consider when buying software for your afterschool program

By Megan Guerin, Product Specialist at Amilia.

There are a lot of software options out there that offer a variety of solutions to help your afterschool program operate more efficiently—but searching for software can be overwhelming. It’s a big investment and there is a lot to consider.

If you’re considering a new software purchase in the coming months, bookmark this blog for some handy guidelines to consider and questions to ask as you search for the right solution to fit your program’s unique needs.

Your current issues

Before you even start evaluating software, you need to have a clear understanding of the current issues you are looking to resolve. This will allow you to ask the right questions.

The kinds of questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • What organizational goals are tied to a new software solution? These might include reducing administrative work or increasing programming.
  • What are the specific problems you are looking to solve? These could involve staff management, marketing, registration, online payment of program fees, etc.
  • Do you have any specific rules that would affect the problem you are trying to resolve? These could range from registration restrictions to multiple locations to accounting processes.

Do your research

Most companies offer a lot of information on their websites and have sales or customer success representatives available to help assess your needs, product fit, and answer your questions. It’s a good idea to make sure to do your research and narrow down your choices to just a few vendors that meet your needs.

Ways to evaluate vendors:

  • Visit their websites and review content such as features brochures, case studies, blogs, etc.
  • If they offer a free trial or demo of the software, do it! It is by far the best way to see software options in action.
  • Talk to a sales or customer success representative. It is their job to act as a consultant during the evaluation process. They will help you identify whether or not the solution can meet your unique needs and answer your questions. They will help you quickly eliminate software vendors, or bump them to the top of your list.

Evaluate vendors, not just software

Since technology and software is such a huge investment for your organization in terms of time and money, it is important that the software vendor you choose is a true partner. They must be a willing and capable partner to your afterschool program’s long-term success. 

Here are some key questions to consider when evaluating the reputation and service of a potential software vendor:

  • How responsive are they during the evaluation process? Do they answer your questions in a timely manner and offer insight into how the software can benefit your organization? Are they upfront about what the software doesn’t do?
  • What kinds of training tools are available to get you up and running?
  • How long has the vendor been in business, and has the company been growing?
  • How many current users does the software have?
  • Can you speak with similar clients who use the software?
  • Does the company invest in the evolution of their product? Can they provide a roadmap of functionality?
  • How much does the vendor value customer feedback? Are customer suggestions a large part of continuing development? Do they send out user surveys?
  • What is the standard policy for providing software updates, upgrades, and enhancements?

Ease of use for clients & administrators

Intuitive, user-friendly software is what is going to help you realize your organizational goals. You want to be sure the system is user-friendly so your staff can utilize it to its full potential and is not afraid to use it. You should also make sure it’s simple enough that training new users will not be a struggle. No amount of handholding, follow-up emails, or phone calls can cure a bad user experience.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the system intuitive and easy from an administrative standpoint?
  • Who will be using the system daily and can they be involved in the training process?
  • If your software will be externally facing for use by parents or community members—how user friendly is it? Is it mobile optimized for cell phone and tablet access? 

The cost: how to calculate TCO (total cost of ownership)

For afterschool programs whose budgets are stretched tight, cost is a big factor in choosing software. Some solutions appear inexpensive at first, but add-ons, support, hidden fees, and hardware required can inflate the cost.

The best way to estimate and get a clear picture of your total cost of ownership (TCO) is to evaluate what it will cost you over a 3-year period of time. When calculating TCO, remember to add the cost of:

  • Software licenses
  • Any hardware necessary (e.g., rackspace, servers)
  • Any add-on applications planned for the first three years
  • Any internal IT resources or outside consultants for implementation
  • Any customization
  • Three years of technical support
  • Upfront training to learn the system
  • Recurring or additional training for new employees or new functionality added to the system

If you follow these guidelines, you will be in good shape for implementing the right solution from the get-go. Software is a tool to help you enhance your operations and can help free up more of your time to focus on the students, families, and community your program serves.