The five factors of software success - AGContext

The five factors of software success

The five factors of software success

There are five factors of software success: Usefulness, Usability, Availability, Alignment and Authority. Modern day computer and software technologies are transforming organisations and industries and capturing their benefits is all about balancing these five factors.

Software helps businesses is many ways. When employees can effectively use software applications to create quotes and invoices, monitor projects or record customer contacts, time and money is saved. Software enables business owners to monitor performance reducing the effort of keeping up with employees and staying informed. Using the right software in the right way, can enable the monitoring of business in real time. With modern internet and cloud based software, sales teams can communicate with customers anywhere, at any time. With the technologies of today, flexibility in the workplace is standard practice. Businesses that are smart with software gain a significant advantage in today’s highly competitive marketplace. This is the power of today’s software technologies.

Yet, despite the opportunities, there are few businesses who capture the full potential of computer software. Like the benefits, the problems of software come in many forms. For example, applications are often used for tasks they were not designed. So too, a lack of technical experience is a common cause for organisations to repeat mistakes. The benefits you gain from software is determined by how effectively they balance and maximise the five factors of software success:

  1. Usefulness: The software enables you to do tasks in ways not otherwise possible or as effective.
  2. Usability: The software is easy-to-use, enjoyable and generally free of effort.
  3. Availability: The software is documented and supported for example by help desk, training or on-line groups.
  4. Alignment: The policies, procedures and processes of your business align with the functions of the software.
  5. Authorisation: Those responsible for using the software have the necessary authority to do so effectively.

Usefulness defines software success

This is the primary factor that determines the perceived value of software. Software that is useful enables people to do things they could not otherwise do. It enhances job performance. It is true that the oldest commercial software products ooze with usefulness. Microsoft Excel is a classic example, so too Adobe Photoshop and Winzip. These tools have been around since before the Internet, and remain as popular today as ever and all for good reason. If your task is numeric, graphical or requires file compression, these products for each respective task, are exceptionally useful.

Usability underpins software success

Put simple, usability means a system does as it is expected. Usability isn’t about the system’s functions per se, but to how it works and how much fun it is to use. Usability encompasses things like colour, shape, terminology and font. Usability recognises not what people what to do, but how they wish to do it. When it comes to usability, you cannot go past products created by Apple. As a company, the focus they place on usability design is second to none. As such, the iPhone and iPad and their highly usable apps are transforming entire industries.

Availability is people helping people

Availability is the third characteristic of software success and refers to the products and services that promote, distribute and support the end user to learn and adjust to using a particular software technology. The most obvious help is from documentation, help guides and more recently, video guides. Availability is also about people being available to provide support. This includes not just the end-user, but also salespeople, helpdesk staff, resellers, trainers and demonstrators, and anyone in an online support community. The availability of products and people that can support you in using a particular software product will significantly contribute to your software success.

Alignment enables great things

The software marketplace has matured a lot since the 1990s. Today, there is an absolute avalanche of new software products available to support businesses for any task in any industry. Commercial software however, is never ever a perfect fit for every situation. For every organisation I have ever worked with, much has been gained simply by improving the way they operate to better match the commercial software they used. Sometimes this means training staff, in others tweaks to business policy and procedure has made all the difference. The aim is always to align the duties and tasks of the organisation, with the programmed functions of the software in play. This means a focus on continuous improvement and systems integration. It is often surprise just how much improvement can be achieved simply by asking, how can this business use this software better?

Authority is freedom to succeed

In my days, I have seen too many software opportunities lost because the people who are responsible for the installing and using a particular application, were not given the authority to do so effectively. The most common example I see is overly repressive control of organisational information via user profiles. This happens when certain information or data, is restricted from users, even though accessing and using that information is a regular part of the work they do. For certain, privacy and security of information is important, but all too often the fear of managers to provide necessary authority to their underlings creates far more problems than it solves.

It is a balancing act

It was through my PhD literature review that I first recognized these five factors of software success. These factors inter and counter act in ways that mean you can never achieve the best of all at once. To gain the best from software, organisations must enable, create and maintain the highest possible degree of balance between them. In my experience, the businesses that do this best act on the core principals of continuous improvement as standard practice. They do not fear failure and actively encourage their people to identify, raise and address problems. These organisation make an effort to consider their individual situation and make strategic choices and trade-offs. How well your organisation can do this will be determine the benefit you capture from today’s modern day computer and software technologies.