Choosing Contingency Planning Software: The Ease-Of-Use Issue in Software Selection
- Published on Tuesday, 30 October 2007 06:36
Many organizations seeking to improve their business recovery programs have opted to utilize software to assist them in plan development and maintenance.
These organizations seek out software suppliers offering tools that assist in the management of the overall recovery program. Each organization establishes specific criteria the resumption planning software tool must incorporate to meet its needs. Most organizations rank ease of use as a high priority on their list of criteria.
One of the most compelling reasons one software package is selected over competing products is the ease-of-use issue. This is true because many people with varying skill levels throughout the organization must use the planning tool.
As a vendor of software, we are confronted with the ease-of-use issue every time we talk with people involved in selecting software for their organization. When software purchasers make their final decision, we often hear, “we selected your product because for us it was the easiest to use,” or “we selected their product because it looked easier to use”.
Nonetheless, ease of use is a very broad term, encompassing a variety of more specific definitions. If you ask several people to describe ease of use you will get different answers depending on each person’s specific area of concern. What then does ease of use really mean? How does ease of use rank in the selection process, and more importantly, how should it rank?
EASE OF USE: An Explanation
Employing an easy-to-use software tool does not require that the user possess a great deal of specialized knowledge nor training to produce the end product. That is to say, ease of use is a characteristic attributable to the process of using a software tool. The tool is graded on the simplicity of its use. Therefore, ease of use is a process issue.
Ease of use is not an end product issue. The end product produced by the software tool cannot be attributed the characteristic, ease of use. A product issue focuses on the end result, the plan, not how the plan was processed.
For example, suppose I wanted to become a world class golfer. First, I would have to practice my golf game on some challenging courses. The process is practicing and playing golf, the product is becoming a better golfer.
This analogy holds true with software. The purpose of recovery planning software is to complete and maintain an effective business recovery plan. This plan is the product. How the product is produced is the process.
Depending on the software, the process of producing a business resumption plan entails varying degrees of difficulty. Regardless of how easy the process (or software) is, the end product (or the business resumption plan) still must be measured on its own merits. Therefore, when evaluating recovery planning software, ease of use should refer only to the process of producing the plan, it should not refer to the end product, the plan itself, or the quality of that plan.
With regard to business resumption planning tools, this process/product differentiation becomes critical. In order to resolve this issue, an organization must ask an important question: Are we using a planning tool to get some information into the tool, or are we using it to produce a high quality plan? More specifically: Are we looking for the easiest to use software, or are we looking for a tool that allows us to meet our planning objectives in the most efficient manner? While the answer to these fundamental questions may seem self-evident, it is easy to overlook during the initial phases of the software selection process.
In keeping with the golfing analogy, I have several options open to me. The first is to jump in my car and drive to a local public golf course. The other options open to me all involve some travel, planning efforts, and cost. For example, I could make travel arrangements to fly to northern California and play Pebble Beach. Both of these options meet the basic definition of playing some golf.
On the surface, the local golf course option seems to have the edge in the ease-of-use category. Obviously hopping in my car and driving a few miles is easier than making travel arrangements and taking the time and incurring the expense to travel to play Pebble Beach. Remember, however, my goal was not to just play golf, but to play the most challenging courses to truly improve my game. In order to achieve improvement on my local municipal course, I would have to get out bulldozers and cranes and create a course that would challenge me like Pebble Beach. Clearly, what appears to be the easiest option when judging only the process, becomes unacceptable if it does not lead to the desired end product.
This illustration applies to the ease-of-use issue when selecting a business resumption planning tool. If the end product, namely the plan itself, does not meet your business resumption objectives, the process used to produce the product becomes an unacceptable alternative, no matter how easy it is to use.
Through the years, a number of planning tools have appeared on the market to meet a simplified definition of easy to use. These products are easy to use because the process they follow involves filling in some blanks and printing out a pre-formatted plan. By any definition, this “cookie-cutter” or “one size fits all” approach is easy to use.
By increasing the perceived ease of use in a planning tool, the user’s flexibility and control over the end product is decreased. In other words, when a user is denied options, a product will appear easier to use.
If you do not have the choice of customizing reports and screens, or recording information specific to your business or industry, the planning process seems easy. However, when the user’s flexibility and control over the process is limited, it is prudent to examine what effects this will have on the end product.
Realizing your goal means producing complete, accurate, maintainable, and viable business resumption plans.
EASE OF USE:A Definition
A truly easy-to-use business planning tool allows you to:
1) efficiently enter all of your vital information
2) easily maintain that data as your business changes
3) quickly extract the vital information in a usable format
4) produce a complete plan that meets your business’s unique requirements.
Efficiently Enter Data
A software tool built on a relational database platform, allowing any user to take advantage of the database structure through all phases of the planning process, from data entry to reporting to plan production, is desirable.
The planning tool should have a database which sets up relationships between different bits of information. In other words, data entry in a relational database entails simply entering a piece of information once, and then relating it to all other appropriate pieces of information. This concept reduces data entry time and virtually eliminates data inconsistency.
Easily Maintain Your Data As Your Business Changes
If plan maintenance becomes difficult, it will be ignored. If maintenance is ignored, the information will quickly become obsolete. Obsolete information leads to an ineffective plan. An ineffective plan is equivalent to no plan at all.
When any portion of your plan changes, be it a phone number, serial number, or action item, the change should only need to be made once and then be automatically propagated through your entire plan.
Quickly Extract Vital information
Comprehensive reporting capabilities is a crucial element of a truly easy-to-use tool. If it is difficult to get the information out of the tool, especially in a meaningful format, the tool is not easy to use. Business resumption planning must include many areas of a business; therefore, it is critical to extract the information in multiple formats. It is not uncommon to need information regarding personnel, business functions, inventory requirements, and recovery steps on a single report.
Produce A Complete Plan That Meets Your Unique Requirements
The real purpose of a resumption planning tool is to create a plan that meets your needs. A tool that is perceived to be easy to use becomes an unacceptable option if the output does not meet your needs.
Revisiting the golf analogy, I can play golf on my local course everyday and technically meet my objective of improving my golf game. However, if I want to meet the true purpose of my goal to become a world class golfer, I will have to play the best courses like Pebble Beach.
So it is with business resumption planning. If you want to use any tool because it is perceived as easy to use, you can technically meet your goal of doing disaster recovery planning. But if you want to meet the true purpose of the planning project, you will use a planning tool that helps you build complete, effective plans, in the most efficient, functional manner possible.
Functionality and efficiency are the true determinants of an easy-to-use planning tool.
Michael Gomoll is a Marketing Executive with CHI/COR Information Management, a disaster recovery software and consulting firm in Chicago. Prior to joining CHI/COR, he was a marketing representative with IBM. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from DePaul University.
This article adapted from Vol. 5 #4.