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Hard truths of software

Getting more information before calling for proposals to upgrade the association’s financial software, as the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors agreed last week, is the right thing to do.

Buying software isn’t like it once was, when buyers had fewer options and, consequently, fewer opportunities to get the wrong thing. Now, however, the market bulges with solutions that range from the extravagantly detailed — and more difficult to run — to the more easily understood but somewhat less functional systems.

There’s also the question of how much a purchaser truly needs versus how much he or she wants. Do you get a modular system and build on it in pieces or a master suite that, theoretically, does everything any finance department could want right out of the box?

Just about anyone who’s ever been involved in a shift from a long-used and familiar software system to something new and foreign can relate all sorts of horror stories about things that didn’t work quite as smoothly as expected.

Sometimes, the customer discovers that the computer system itself doesn’t have enough processing horsepower to handle the heavier information load and there are other times the vendor must create special software patches to address circumstances that are unique to the organization.

Despite what the sales pitch might be, there’s no such thing as a problem-free, plug-and-play financial program for an organization of any size. They all have their issues.

That’s why the first step in determining what kind of programs Ocean Pines management needs to handle its finances is to talk to the people who run the current one. Let them explore the options in concert with their own IT people and let them take their thoughts and recommendations to the general manager and on up the supervisory food chain.

The board is right in seeking an information-only response from prospective vendors, because that will allow the finance department to consider every property of each offering before committing to a package they must work with, like it or not, for years to come.