William Watcherley, the English dramatist, once said that “necessity [is the] mother of invention.”  How correct he was. When early humankind needed a way to transport ourselves relatively quickly, the wheel was invented. And when we needed to stop walking from the couch to the television to change the channel, the remote control was invented.

From daily household tasks to business responsibilities, our needs have become more advanced, requiring new inventions to help fill those needs. But with so many options, selecting the right technology can be overwhelming, often leading decision-makers to implement costly solutions that don’t necessarily meet the primary needs of the company. Selecting the wrong technology can be harmful to your business, especially when it comes to how your money is accounted for and distributed.

Many businesses face challenges in selecting appropriate accounting and finance software. It is essential to find a software solution that can not only support business-critical tasks such as payroll, expense tracking, financial reporting, and invoicing, but also grow with the company so that expensive upgrades can be avoided. As solutions continue to advance and more vendors emerge on the market, the question becomes, “How do I select the right solution for my business?”

Kicking the tires

You shouldn’t buy a home without researching the neighborhood, or a car without looking at reliability and safety reports. So when selecting an accounting software package, take the time to research the solutions on the market and identify what fits your company’s needs. As you conduct your examination of accounting software, here are some common-sense (but often forgotten) questions to ask yourself as you search for the right solution:

What do I really need in an accounting solution? It’s easy to get caught up in the “bells and whistles” that many accounting solutions offer. Before selecting the most complex software, take the time to assess your company’s accounting needs. Do you need to be able to track inventory? Do you have special reporting needs or requirements?  If all you need are basic accounting features, purchasing a complex (and often, expensive) accounting solution will probably end up doing your organization more harm than good.

Should I run the software in-house or consider a hosted solution? For organizations with limited internal technology support, a hosted solution can reduce the complexity of implementation by providing the required infrastructure to run the software.  Too often the costs of new hardware, disaster recovery and internal hardware support are lost in the cost equation of the new software.

If I decide to implement an accounting solution to run in-house, how do I evaluate the systems implementer?  The good news is that in today’s environment there are many high quality software solutions for you business.  The key difference in a successful implementation is often the direct result of the quality and experience of the company hired to manage the implementation.  That may be a value added reseller (VAR) that sells the software and implementation services or it may be a systems integrator.  The decision of who implements your software requires at least as much diligence as selecting the accounting solution itself.

Will my new software be compatible with what I already have in place? For a majority of businesses the answer to that question needs to be “yes.” Purchasing software and hardware can be expensive, and if your solutions don’t mix well, the result can be disastrous. Examine how difficult it will be to convert historical data from your old system. Evaluate what other system interfaces may be required.

What kind of support does the vendor provide? In a perfect world, all technology would work correctly all the time. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As you evaluate your accounting software options, closely view the support that each vendor provides. Do you need to be able to reach a help desk 24/7? Can you access user forums to gain insight from real-world customers? What kind of documentation is available?  Are there online resources to access?  Are upgrades included and if so, how often? What is involved with implementing an upgrade? What are the annual maintenance costs?   Being prepared with the right kind of support for a potential technology problem can make the difference between a minor blip on the screen and a major company problem.

From cost to compatibility, selecting the right accounting software may seem like an overwhelming process. But it doesn’t have to be. Taking the time during the selection process to evaluate your business requirements and asking good questions during the evaluation process can help you select the best fit for your company’s accounting needs.

Lisa Metcalfe is a Regional Practice Leader in the Technology Leadership Practice of Tatum LLC. Tatum is the nation’s largest executive services firm, providing financial and technology leadership nationwide.