The variety and number of application management systems available today can make it hard to decide which one is best. But that choice is critical for your organization's success. Read on for five helpful questions to guide you toward the right one - now and in the future.
If your association has decided to take the plunge and invest in a new grants or scholarship management system, you might be feeling overwhelmed. The marketplace has exploded with options over the last decade -- each with its own bells and whistles.
Even after you’ve compared popular systems by the basics such as features, price, and customer service, you’re often left with a long list of contenders.
To help you shortlist the best vendors, we suggest adding these five questions to your evaluation process. They’re meant to be forward-thinking, focused on making sure you’ll get the best return on investment and that the chosen system is the right solution for many years to come.
1. What’s the vendor’s financial viability?
With so many new grant and scholarship management systems coming on the market, it’s critical to understand the viability of the company offering the product. You don’t want your vendor going out of business. Or being acquired and shifting the focus away from your new software.
That’s not to say that all newer options are questionable, but it’s important to know they have the right leadership and funding to sustain their business model. Here are a few factors to consider.
Revenue Size - In general, a vendor with larger revenues is more viable than a smaller one. However, consider this in the context of all other information. For example, a small vendor may invest more in their one product than a larger one with multiple products diluting their research and development budget. So, bigger isn’t always better.
Profitability - Does the vendor generate enough cash flow from operations to support investments in development and support? If their margins are small, this is a red flag.
Balance Sheet - Does the vendor have sufficient working capital (current assets minus current liabilities)? The combination of cash on hand and accounts receivable should be significantly greater than the vendor’s accounts payable and short-term debts.
Be sure to do your homework and don’t just take the vendor’s claims at face value. Look for press releases about the company, its leaders, and its customers to give you a sense of their strength in the marketplace.
2. What’s the vendor’s customer profile?
You’ve probably already considered this question as part of your evaluation. You want to make sure other organizations similar to yours (in size, services, or mission) are using the system successfully.
But we have a different purpose in mind with this question. The goal is to understand if the vendor is focused on your industry and the product you plan to buy for the long-term.
For example, a very large vendor may have great resources at their disposal, but if your market segment isn’t as important to their overall strategy, your product may not receive the lion’s share of research and development investments.
As part of your discovery process, be sure to consider the following:
Is the application management software part of a suite of products? Or is it their only product?
Do all or most of their software offerings focus on the nonprofit market?
If they serve other markets, what is the revenue compared to nonprofits?
What is their product roadmap for development?
Have their current clients found them to be innovative and responsive?
There are no right or wrong answers, but they give you more insights as you consider investing in that vendor.
3. Can the system integrate with future apps or software you’ll need?
While some systems bill themselves as having everything you need (think association management systems and CRMs) the truth is, with the speed of technology and diversity of organizations out there, it’s just not possible.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem as long as the systems you use for different niche needs are all capable of integrating with each other -- or at least all into a hub or "main" system.
An important note - You can certainly run through all the current apps and software you use and ask them to show how it will integrate, but you also want to be confident that they can handle almost anything new that arises. Is your vendor's infrastructure designed for continual adaption and integration?
4. Does the pricing structure become a problem as you grow?
The cost of application management software typically includes the upfront costs of implementation and set-up and then an annual fee. That annual charge may be based on contacts, programs, users, or features.
When you conduct your cost comparison, it’s helpful to look at each system's pricing structure and see if one is more advantageous than another over a five to ten year period.
For example, if the system you select is priced per applicant and you underestimate your program's growth, you could find yourself bumped to a different tier - and suddenly the cost of the system becomes financially unsustainable. But if the system is based on features, that wouldn't become an issue.
Price increases over time are inevitable, but you can control your annual expenses by choosing one that matches best with the growth of your program.
5. Does the system have robust cybersecurity?
For most organizations, consolidating your data in the cloud through an application management system will offer an immediate improvement in security by providing a modern digital infrastructure. However, as cybersecurity threats continue to rise, you want to be sure the vendor is vigilant about data security.
Here are a few questions you can ask to dig deeper beyond the vendor’s initial statements.
What data security and privacy standards does your software meet?
Who will have access to our data?
How is our data protected from illegal access?
How often do you test data security?
What is your plan when an incident occurs?
By investing in an system with strong cybersecurity commitment, you’re positioning your organization for success. A cyber attack can have serious financial consequences, and leave your constituents wary of sharing their personal information.
Once you have satisfactory answers to these five questions, you can narrow your list, focus on features and flow, and feel confident that the system you choose is ready to serve your team and help you carry out your mission well into the future.