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Two weeks until Christmas: this is when we all discover what types of holiday shoppers we really are!
Maybe you blitzed your way through the madding crowds on Black Friday and crossed everything off your gift list in one fell swoop.
Or maybe you’re one of the smart ones who’s been buying presents all year long, and now you’re sitting in front of the fire, sipping hot cocoa, while the rest of the world floods the Walmart parking lot, scours Amazon, and finally gives up and buys gift cards in bulk.
The good news is that buying software isn’t nearly as stressful as Christmas shopping. But here are some tips from holiday shopping that will help make any software decisions for your district easier this year!
Most likely, you’ve got your Christmas wish lists well in hand. And maybe you’ve started thinking about a “wish list” for software that keeps catching your eye. You want to compare solutions, so you’re thinking you should scratch out a list of required features, pros and cons.
Not a bad idea, but first, make another list: make a list of the problems you are facing in your job, department and school district.
While a feature list might sound like a better place to start, in reality, you don’t want features – you want fixes! So don’t worry so much about the bells and whistles — just start making a list of problems you want solved in a specific area. And then find the system that solves them!
A good software company should be able to do more than rattle off a feature set — they should partner with you to come up with the answer to your most frustrating and time-consuming issues.
Everybody talks a good game, but not everybody makes Santa’s “nice” list. So you’ve checked out the pretty websites and the glossy flyers — what’s the best way to truly differentiate among software systems?
Call other districts! No one is going to give you the truth about other K-12 software tools like your fellow school district administrators will. They’ve got nothing to gain and they have actual real-life experience, hopefully with some of the products you are evaluating.
So give some of your neighbors a call or send an email and find out what other districts in your area are using — and how they like it!
Not being prepared with a budget for Christmas could mean ugly interest payments and buyer’s remorse, but at work, it could mean not getting that software system you’re looking at, even if it would really help you and your department. It’s always harder — though not impossible — to buy something for you and your department once the budget’s already been set.
Work with your finance department to put a placeholder in now for potential software purchases in 2014. Many online systems charge per employee that would be on the system, so it’s easy to get a quick quote and estimate the cost.
Also, many companies offer ROI calculators and other cost-saving information to help you start building your case for the money you’ll save by investing in a software solution.
Did you ever buy a child a toy, watch as they start to turn it on with excitement — and then realize it needs batteries? Ugh. With all the tech today, it’s even harder to buy people gifts without first checking the make and model of all their electronic devices to make sure they’re compatible!
Avoid letdown and make sure the software systems you’re looking at will work with the systems your school district is currently using, especially your payroll system. Even if you’re not planning on integrating your systems right away, you want to have the option for the future.
School District Technology Manager Gary Lambert put it well: “How well does that system work and play with other systems that you have? Whether you use the integrations or not, they need to be there for you when you’re ready to use them.”
Did you do any Christmas shopping online this year? The National Retail Federation predicted that 131 million people would purchase items online on Cyber Monday alone — astounding! With so much information and so many options online, it’s easy to do a big chunk of your own research when checking out K-12 software options.
To get ideas of what’s helping other districts, check out District Administration’s Readers’ Choice Top 100 Products — chosen by other school district administrators. Then visit websites and browse through case studies, videos, white papers and more — and keep that “problems list” from step #1 in mind.
If you’re hitting a wall, don’t forget to try Googling some of the questions on your mind — you’ll undoubtedly uncover a number of interesting solutions and maybe even some you hadn’t thought of before.
Of course, there’s still something to be said for shopping in stores, holding a product in your hands, and talking to a knowledgeable employee who can give you their undivided attention. So once you’re ready, contact the company and see if they’re a good fit for your needs!
Don’t get overwhelmed with your holiday shopping — or with making a district software choice. Lots of great options exist and with the simple tips above, you’ll be wrapping up your great choices in no time!
Any tips you would share on choosing and buying K-12 software?