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Distribution Software Overview
In addition to the items listed above, there are a number of other things to consider and think about when you involved in the purchase process for distribution software. The following list provides a solid starting point:

Browser Based or Client Application: Browser based software is often easier to use, easier to install, and easier to maintain. The trend now is away from client based software toward centralized software that resides on a server that people access with a browser. Client applications need to be installed on every machine that they are being used on and the client applications typically talk to a centralized application. Client applications need to be continually installed and upgraded on each machine.

Ease of Use: Distribution Software that no one can figure out how to use is almost worthless. The costs to an organization can be great in terms of user training and the efficiency of the business process. Even though a package of distribution software has a lot of functionality, if it is hard to use, it will be hard to realize ROI. Try to look at the quality of the software's interfaces (the part the user sees) and see if they are intuitive.

Functionality: What the software can do is obviously important. Check to make sure the software does everything that you need it to do.

Platform: The distribution software platform is an important thing to look at. This is the software that the distribution software runs on (ex Windows). You buy the wrong platform and you are going to be looking at a lot of extra costs over the life of the software. Beware of proprietary vendor platforms that may be around only as long as the vendor is around or until gets acquired. Try to stick to proven platforms that are Java based or Windows.

Other Software: Make sure that the software is compatible with other software your organization uses (another reason to go with browser based software). Moreover, beware of hidden costs. Some distribution software may require costly database software like IBM or Oracle (all distribution software will require some type of database). You might be able to use a reliable, proven, open source solution here to lower costs, but remember, most distribution software is mission critical.

Cost: The cost of the software is important. Be sure to do a more thorough evaluation that takes into account the life of the distribution software and the benefits that your will receive by installing and using it.

Hosting: Although the software may be accessible through a web browser, the software itself will be hosted on a server somewhere. The buyer of distribution software will need to determine whether this will be done on a server in house or whether it will be outsourced to the software vendor or a hosting provider. Again, the software is mission critical and eventually will contain a lot of important company data so this decision is an important one.

Maintenance / Support: Since distribution software is typically a mission critical application or set of applications, it makes sense to purchase updated maintenance or support from the software vendor. Be sure to ask about the maintenance options and the costs up front since this can be a way that software vendors can try to sneak in extra costs. Typical maintenance costs will be a percentage of the license and will be paid each year.

Installation: Be sure to ask about who will do the actual distribution software installation. When companies have a large, in house technical staff with a lot of resources, they may elect to set up and install the distribution software themselves. The other option is to have the software vendor or a consultant do it and they will usually bill you an hourly or project rate.

Training: If the distribution software is a larger implementation, it will be a challenge for the people in your company to learn how to use it. If the application is complex, training will be required. You should ask about training options and costs.

By focusing on some of the issues listed above, you should be able to get behind all of the hype and buzz of marketing and evaluate the distribution software packages on a more objective basis. In subsequent articles, we will go into a little more depth in some of these areas and will provide some more guides and tips for evaluating distribution software.

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