Threshold of a New TEC Advisor

I'm happy to announce the beta launch of our new tool to help people start their research and evaluations of enterprise software systems. Think of it as the doorway to our TEC Advisor online evaluation and comparison application (accessible from our evaluation centers). In the following, I'll explain what it is and how it works.

A few years ago I asked on this blog, "How do you figure out, from within a large range of software vendors, which vendors to start evaluating?" I then went on to describe how we came up with the idea of a preselection questionnaire. This questionnaire addressed the problem by helping the user develop a working list of software to evaluate.

We set up a series of high-level questions that asked a user about his or her company's industry, region, basic functional requirements, budget, etc. Our system then matched these responses to the information provided by the vendors about how their products addressed particular markets and needs. Based on our matching technique, the system was able to screen the software products most suitable to a user's needs, for further evaluation.

There's always room for improvement.

We paid attention to comments from our user audience, as well as software vendors, and consultants. We repeatedly heard that questions should be based on a person's prior responses. This sounds like an obvious improvement but it's not a simple thing to accomplish in a way that is both transparent and easy to use. But we've given it a shot.

Our new system is more intelligent. It asks some questions and then adapts subsequent questions based on your answers. For example, if you tell us that your company manufactures aerospace products and you're researching software for engineering and facility management personnel, TEC Advisor will suggest functionality that is likely to be within your scope. Then you can select the high-level functions you truly do need and if you're not an expert in enterprise software, it provides descriptive help explaining those functions.

We realize that a lot of the people using our research and evaluation services are not experts on enterprise software. You've got a big project ahead. You need help figuring out what to do and what to look for. We tried to design the new TEC Advisor in such a way that it informs you about important things you should consider during your software selection project. Each step in our new system offers practical advice about why you need to consider the question carefully. Here's an example for compliance reporting functionality:

Functionality Help - TEC Advisor

While you're using it, TEC Advisor shows you a running tally of the vendors offering products within the likely range of something you'll want to evaluate.

Once you've answered the necessary questions, you will be presented with the Final Product Standings screen. This is a list of products available for in-depth evaluation and analysis. This is one of the more interesting parts.

Although the final standings screen (pictured below) looks straightforward, what it does is sophisticated. It presents you with a ranked list of products that are likely worthwhile candidates for you to analyze in-depth. The ranking is determined based on your prior responses.

The list includes all types of enterprise software: customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, business intelligence (BI) systems, etc., or whichever products are most applicable for your requirements. You can then select a few products to evaluate and TEC Advisor will group the products according to the type of software they are. For example, if you choose three financial packages and two ERP systems, you'll see the financial packages evaluation at the top of your list of choices--you know you're evaluating similar systems.

Final Standings - TEC Advisor

In this example, the three top matches are different types of applications, so they're not directly comparable. TEC Advisor selects the most appropriate applications until it finds more than one of the same type of software. At this point, it recommends evaluating that type of software with the appropriate products. You can always select more.

The great part here is that if you were unsure whether you needed, for example a full-blown ERP system or just a smaller accounting package, now you have some guidance. In other words, TEC Advisor has just helped you determine what type of software you need to pursue and some of the products within that type of software that are probably good options to explore further.

This new doorway to TEC Advisor is a significant rethinking of our old service. Many people at TEC have worked hard to launch this beta version. Since it's a beta release, of course there will be some growing pains. We'll continue to work hard to take care of the kinks, augment the data, and generally improve it. With that being said, please try it out and let us know your impressions.
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