Understanding Your Business – Don’t confuse being a computer “expert” with understanding the unique needs of childcare centers. Although shrink-wrapped products, such as Microsoft Access, do provide some of the functionality you need, they will require much more customization and ultimately will be more limited. Vendors who specialize in working with childcare centers will have a much better understanding of your needs and be able to leverage their experience in working with centers like yours.
Willingness to Do it Your Way – Good childcare software and good childcare software vendors consider your input essential to helping you get the most from your software. Don’t be intimidated into something that doesn’t work the way you want it to work. See the product demonstrated. Make sure that the vendor’s claims are backed up by actual performance. Many companies offer demonstration disks that are not the working software; without viewing the actual software, you cannot evaluate ease-of-use, flexibility, and performance.
Commitment to Product Enhancement – Technology continues to change and improve rapidly, and your childcare software needs to keep up. A software company should offer a regular program of periodic improvements. You should know the frequency with which these updates are released, what types of improvements were incorporated into the latest version, and where the ideas for the enhancements originate.
Ability to Provide Services – Just as important as the quality of the product is the vendor’s ability to provide training, periodic newsletters, website resources, and, of course, phone & e-mail support. Ask questions about hours of availability and number of staff involved in providing support. You should expect to pay for quality support, and many vendors include free product updates and enhancements with their support plans, which help you avoid software obsolescence.
If you are on a limited budget, look for companies that provide training that does not require expensive travel by using technology such as web-based seminars.
Financial Stability – Since the company you choose is at least as important as the product, you must be confident that the vendor will be there when you need them. Companies come and go in the software business. Look for a vendor that is well established and can demonstrate financial stability and a commitment to serving the childcare industry. It is not unreasonable to ask for some form of financial statement to confirm this.
A good vendor will assist you in getting the most from your software investment. Use the above suggestions as a starting point in evaluating a potential provider, or even your current one.