Have you found yourself lost in a software hell? You are not alone. Every magazine you pick up advertises new and improved software; your junk email, I like to call g-mail, tells you of the latest products; you see it in catalogs, and your phone rings and some vendor pushes you to purchase their latest package. You know you need software or newer software, and colleagues tell you that the latest software will help your business, make you more profitable, and help your customer service experience. But how do you determine what software is good for your business?

Lab and quality managers must wear several hats when choosing software for their business. Labs with the resource of an IT department or an employee with some software experience get frustrated trying to sift through the software maze and give up (more often than not). They decide the only way to get what they want is to build it themselves. This fix seems to be a simple solution up-front, but anyone who has been through this process will tell you it is far from simple.

Management Software


The software can be classified into different functional areas. Some packages do a good job of overall functionality, but most “best in class” applications specialize in a few specific function areas. General software classifications include benchtop, management, internet, mobile, enterprise, PDA, and instrument packages.

The Environment

The first evaluation that needs to be done is to review the new system’s hardware. Will it be the same hardware, new hardware, or some of both? You will want to look at the oldest machine used by the software and ensure it meets the software’s specification requirements.

In some cases, upgrading the hardware can be just as expensive as the software. If the hardware does not meet the software requirements, then your first decision point has been reached: do you replace the hardware or look for different software? If the hardware life cycle expires before the software’s life cycle, then it is usually easy to determine which way to go.

The second evaluation should be your connectivity to the outside world. If the software package requires any connection to the internet, you will need to understand the capabilities of your facility. Like the hardware, this can be upgraded if required, and many high-speed cable or DSL connections are as cheap as dial-up.

If your bandwidth to the internet is limited, this may hinder or stop the functionality of some software products. Generally, each user going out to the internet will consume about 16k bandwidth using a standard browser. If the user is requesting data regularly, this utilization will increase. As a general rule of thumb, divide the bandwidth by 64k to determine how many people can ‘work’ through the internet connection.

The third evaluation will be the location of work. Is all your work done in the lab, or are some done on-site? Depending upon the ratio of on-site work, the ability of the software to support the on-site process may be a factor. Additionally, if work is being done on-site and the software requires an internet connection, does the facility you are working at have a link you can use? Many companies have requirements and limitations in allowing outside users access to their systems.

On-site work may require a laptop or other portable computing device. Ensure you understand the software’s basic requirements for performing the work on-site before purchasing or upgrading any hardware. Licensing of on-site software should also be evaluated; if the on-site license cannot be used while that technician is not on-site, you may be forced to purchase more rights than you have users. Software packages that allow the permit to follow the user, whether on-site or in the lab, can be more cost-effective.