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How to select the right software for your property

You've seen the ads. You've spent valuable time reading magazine articles and product reviews. You might have talked to a business associate or even a consultant. But do you really have a clear understanding of which software system is right for your company?
Selecting software can be a complicated and time-consuming process. Making a well-informed decision means you'll need to consider many factors-from functionality to pricing. Look for the following attributes when selection a software system:
Vendor stability is an important consideration in choosing your software system. Begin by asking how long the vendor has been around. Generally speaking, the longer they have been in business, the more stable the company is. Does the vendor have a vested interest in the software they sell? Do they use their own software? Vendors that use their own software have a vested interest in keeping the product current and functional for the long term.
Choose a vendor that will be there to support you in the short and long term. There's a true story about a vendor who sold its software product to another company. The new company chose not to upgrade the product. The result? The software wasn't Y2K compliant and none of its users were able to use it after Jan. 1, 2000. Protect your interests by thoroughly checking into your vendor's plans for long-term growth.
Investigate the vendor's level of post-sale support before you make a decision. First of all, make sure there's a toll-free number you can call for assistance. How long does it take to get through to someone who can help you? A good way to gauge response is to call with questions. Do you get to speak to a knowledgeable person on your first call? If you leave a message how long does it take to get a response? If a company isn't responsive to a potential client, it should raise a red flag as to how quickly they'll respond once you're a customer.
Does the vendor invest in research and development to keep its software current with new rules and regulations? When talking with the sales rep, ask how many updates have been sent. Does the current version cover the new rules and regulations? A top-notch vendor will stay on top of the latest legislation and provide updates whenever necessary.
If a demo is offered, try it out. Most software companies should have some type of demo available. Does the demo work? Does it lock up your computer? Is it hard to navigate? If you're experiencing trouble at the demo stage, the software isn't worth your time or money. It's also important to consider how complicated and expensive- in terms of your time - the implementation process will be. Will you need to spend weeks keying in required background information or is some of this information optional? Can your existing data be converted? Ask the company how much set-up support they can provide.
You've chosen the software that meets your needs, now you're ready to train people to use it. This is a critical issue to consider when choosing a vendor. When your staff experiences turnover, will you be able to get the training you need? Let's say your company purchases a new software system. You send a group of managers to training, spending thousands of dollars in travel expenses in addition to the cost of the instruction. Everyone is ready for the switch, but the software installation is delayed for two months. A few of the trained managers have moved on to other jobs, and the remaining managers have forgotten much of what they learned and now need a refresher course. Make sure your vendor's training schedules meet your needs.
These purchasing tips should assist you in making an intelligent decision that results in years of satisfied software use.
Jill Schleis is manager of software development for TrackPro Services. The TrackPro family of products and services offers Section 42 tax credit compliance software for use by state housing finance agencies and property managers. This software protects the tax credits of over 2,000 properties in 25 states. TrackPro is a service of Heartland Properties, Inc., a subsidiary of Alliant Energy Resources.
This article first appeared in the May 2002 issue of Novogradac & Company's Property Compliance Report and is reproduced here with the permission of Novogradac & Company LLP. © Novogradac & Company LLP 2002 - All Rights Reserved.
This editorial material is for informational purposes only and should not be construed otherwise. Advice and interpretation regarding property compliance or any other material covered in this article can only be obtained from your tax advisor. For further information visit www.taxcredithousing.com.

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