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I have been a passionate user and advocate of software for decades. What makes it so brilliant to me is that it has the ability to make incredible enhancements to the way a business operates, with “it has the ability” being the main area of focus for this post.
I’ve seen a mix of results when it comes to software, both in terms of how much it has benefitted an individual or firm, as well as what perceived value they ultimately placed on it. This struck me as peculiar early in my career, as I couldn’t fathom why the same piece of software wouldn’t bring the same results to everyone that used it. The features in the software are identical and therefore every individual or firm who uses it should benefit equally right?
In an ideal world perhaps that would be the case. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that some of the fundamental variables that determine the outcome of any given piece of software actually have nothing to do with the software itself, they are variables that we as users of the software dictate.
“Hold on,” you might be saying “software is designed to work for me, not the other way around isn’t it?” In a way yes, software is typically designed to assist users as they perform certain daily activities. Yet most software is not advanced enough to intelligently identify what these daily activities are in any given business environment, let alone determine which ones might be most critical to the success of the business or are in need of improvement all by itself. It can help, but a good portion of this falls on us as users to define and control.
So what are some things that we as users can do to help ensure we get the most out of any given piece of software?
Having a good definition of what we’re trying to accomplish, or the problems within our business that we’re trying to solve for is among one of the most important things. I realize this might sound painfully obvious, although it’s not uncommon for me to encounter individuals or firms who don’t have what can be as simple as a bullet list of their operational needs and/or areas that they are struggling with – I’ve been guilty of this myself on occasion. Establishing a solid, and ideally documented list can help us determine a logical strategy for adapting software within our business based on priorities and a clear picture of what the positive outcomes will be, hopefully a vision that is shared across the entire organization.
Making a commitment to utilize the software we choose, allowing it to do the things it was designed to do and bring us benefit is up there as well. Adapting software can take time and energy, and I’ve seen many occasions where an individual or firm fell prey to the logic that they “can’t afford to take the time”, resulting in underutilized (or completely abandoned) software that has no chance of solving the problems that are quite possibly putting the constraints on their time to begin with… a little ironic, isn’t it?
I also believe that curiosity plays an important role. A colleague recently wrote about all of the capabilities that often go undiscovered in Microsoft Word, and serves as a great example of this. While adapting software to clearly defined needs is important as I noted previously, there are often opportunities to find additional benefits simply by exploring any given piece of software beyond the scope of its current use. The software we use is rarely designed to meet the needs of just one single person, it is more commonly designed to meet the needs of a broader collection of people who are doing similar things. This typically results in the opportunity to discover different ways of approaching a task or function that might be more effective than how we’re currently doing it for example, or additional tools that be used to help with tasks or functions that we might not have even been specifically looking for to begin with – rocks that are ours to turn over if we’re curious enough.
Software has the ability to be absolutely brilliant. It can help make a business more efficient. It can help make a business more profitable. It can help make a business realize its potential. Through our thoughtful adaptation, steadfast commitment and on-going curiosity, we as users are capable of helping to unleash it.