Finding the right software package and the right company to help you through the conversion process is a critical step toward easing into automation. Laying out a systematic game plan that leads you through the process is a good idea. The ideal plan would contain the following steps:

Determine what your company needs

The rule here is "know your company." Because you are looking for a solution to specific issues, you need to clarify those issues at the start. The more you understand about the company’s current needs, growth rate and strategic plan, the better able you will be to match a software program to those needs.

Research the kinds of software that are available

This is a time when you should weed out any products that do not meet your nonnegotiable requirements for price, function or compatibility.

Take the software on a test drive

Testing the various products is probably the most important part of the process. Generally, you should test for six things: actual ability to integrate with current software, ease of learning, simplicity of data entry, function performance, flexibility and reporting capabilities. If you have a critical need, such as providing on-the-fly custom reports to management, be sure to test that section of the software most thoroughly. In addition, you should spend some time trying to create custom reports and personalize the system to make sure it will conform easily to your real-world needs.

Ask questions

Verify your findings by talking with each of the references supplied by the companies and with your own network of HR professionals. When possible, ask the references if you can speak with the person responsible for actually implementing the program. That will quickly reveal a depth of information about the program that you might otherwise find out the hard way. This process may also give you some good ideas of preparatory steps to take and pitfalls to avoid.

Make a decision
After going through each of the above steps, the decision may actually be the easiest step. Because each preceding step narrows the field, it often comes down to no more than one or two software packages that provide what you need.