A lot of people turn to LinkedIn for recommendations for software. The answers they get are unlikely to help them.

I often see posts on Linkedin along the lines of: “We’re looking for a new planning system. Any recommendations?”

These posts always get plenty of response, which is great, but comments are always a variation of: “we use X – it’s great!” I’d question the value you’d actually get from that.

The truth of the matter is that choosing the right system for your function is a much more complicated and nuanced process than a LinkedIn post. No one system will fit all – it depends on the make-up for your team, your current systems and processes, the work you’re doing, and so on. Asking for recommendations on LinkedIn is a bit like asking a complete stranger what car you should drive. They might drive a Lamborghini, but that won’t be much good if, say, you need room for your three children.

The capability of your team, for example, is probably the biggest deciding factor for software that most people overlook. It’s no good going out and buying one of the biggest, most complex solutions if you’ve got one guy in the department who can only spare three hours a week to maintain it.

Similarly, you aren’t going to get the answers you want from a vendor. If you put in a request for information (RFI) or a request for proposal (RFP) with a software vendor without knowing what you’re after, you’re not going to be satisfied with the answers. You can ask for customer references, and you can get sometimes get useful information from them, but keep in mind that those customers have been carefully picked to paint that platform in a favourable light.

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And if you do put in an RFI or RFP, it’s really important to structure it properly, otherwise it’s likely to get ignored. If it seems like the vendor has a limited chance of winning your business, they probably won’t respond. They want to see an RFI or RFP that’s really well structured and gives them an idea of how they are going to differentiate themselves as a vendor.

Which links back to my original point about those broad-brush calls for recommendations. Around 80% of what a planning solution does is the same as every other piece of software on the market. They will all have the ability to do work flows, scenario modelling, etcetera – all of the things you’d expect a software solution to do in that space. What really matters is the other 20%, the complex areas that fall outside the basics. That is where you’ll find out whether a solution really meets your needs.

Review your current ways of working and identify your complex issues. Then look for solutions that deal with that complex issue. But you don’t have to find the best platform for you alone. The right advisory consultant is the most important element when it comes to ensuring that you pick the right planning system (or any other system, for that matter).

You’ve got to look for a partner who’s going to work effectively with you, and that’s where you should be looking for your reference. So if you’re going to post on LinkedIn, ask: have you dealt with a great consultancy? Who’s helped you? Don’t ask about the technology, it’s the person that helped to deliver a solution that matters. They will make or break a good project.

A good, independent advisor can very quickly point out the five or six things you should concentrate on when selecting software. So when you structure your RFI or RFP, or attend a software demo, you can start by saying: “these are the five things I want you to show me”. Then you get an overview of features that actually matter to you, rather than all the things that the vendor thinks they’re great at.