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A buyer's guide to land development software

Feb 25, 2020 12:57:00 PM

Let's face it -- there will be a time when you can’t afford spending hours on top of hours doing the same menial tasks for every single client. Whether that’s planning with your contractors or researching for zoning code, it’s costing you time and you know what they say -- time is money!

Thankfully, automating or shortening your task time is easier than ever with the 21st century’s innovation and ingenuity. You can find a solution to almost anything and should make your life easier, not harder. 

If you’re not sure where to begin with elevating your automation process, write down the first few tasks that come to your head that:

  • You wish you didn’t have to do
  • You think “there must be an easier way”
  • You spend too much time or energy doing
  • Often result in error, lost revenue or productivity

Due to the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence, automation delivers results faster, more accurate results. So, when you’re picking a software, first answer these questions: 

1. What do I want to improve?

Pinpoint the problem you’re facing and identify your desired outcome. Identify what the main issues are, why they’re present and how to avert them. Sometimes, this answer might not seem as obvious or noticeable. If there are no painstakingly-long process, error-ridden results or difficult collaborations, spend a few weeks noticing if there are any bottlenecks in your processes, things you think you can improve, or ways to get more out of the same inputs. 

When you’re answering this question, use the SMART goals guideline: be specific, find a way to measure or quantify your current problem, make sure it’s attainable, identify how it’s relevant to your growth, and make sure it’s timely. A 2-year software search and then another 6 months of implementation and training might be worth reconsidering. 

2. What are my requirements? 

This should be comprehensive of everything you want to use the software and help you get closer to the right software for your business. To pick the right software, consider the following features: 

  • Budget. Identify how much you’re willing to spend, if you’re looking for a one-time or subscription model, and if you are willing to pay monthly or annually. Identify a maximum amount for your budget, but most importantly, make sure the benefits outweigh the costs
  • Usability. Do you need to make separate accounts for every user, or can you use one shared account? Is it user-friendly and easy to change, or will it require extensive training or help from your IT team?
  • Integrations. Will this connect with the other software or platforms you use? WIll you face data lock-in? Understand how the software will interact with other software you use and make sure this won’t post another problem to deal with.
  • Benefits. This purchase should be the solution to your problem and provide all of the necessary tools to reach your end-goal. Sometimes, your problem might be a very specific part or function of a larger software solution, or you may need multiple solutions that integrate together to provide end-to-end requirements.
  • Scalability. Can the software grow with your company’s needs and future growth, and how successfully? How well will the software match your future needs if you expand your team and clientele?

There are different online communities designed to make picking the right software as easy as possible. Check out Capterra, g2 and Gartner to begin researching, but don’t use those as your only resources. A lot of software providers don’t have profiles on popular platforms and that’s ok, too!

If you’re looking at a software without ratings or reviews, it’s a good idea to request more information, a call with the sales reps, or even ask for a demo. By talking to insiders, you might find out other benefits and features you didn’t know about, or multiple ways to use the same tools. Make this a team or company-wide decision, and listen to your coworkers to see what the users actually need. Make a list of your requirements and outcomes, and tie a product’s features or capabilities to your desired outcomes. 

If you’re trying to cut costs and speed up the research and collaboration process for zoning code and property information, look for a software that will locate the information for you, and share the data with whoever needs it. If you can find the information but can’t share it, then it’s only doing half of what you need. 

3. What is the ROI? 

While this might seem hard to figure out, there are different online tools that help you automate your ROI calculation, too! Above all, make sure that the energy and resources you’re putting into finding the right solution will pay off within a reasonable time.

If the solution you’re considering isn’t user-friendly, consider how that might contradict the time and money savings you’re putting into the purchase. And, if the implementation takes weeks of training and adjustments to your current workflow, it might not be worth it. What you need is an easy-to-use, high-impact and low-input platform that works directly with your current processes and systems. 

You might also want to consider the level of innovation, how specialized the software is for your specific business and industry, and what the typical customer of the software is. 

4. What services and support are offered? 

Are there different kinds of service, and how much does each offering cost? What is the quality of the support the vendor provides, and are there any bugs? Before you commit to anything, ask the provider(s) these questions and make sure they’re not a deal breaker. 

The last thing you want is a software failure when you’re communicating with a client or on a tight deadline. For most land development professionals, timeliness is everything. When you have an ever-increasing project timeline, don’t make it any worse with software or program failure that prevents you from getting the code or property information you need. 

5. Cloud or on-premise? 

If most of your work is in the field, a software that’s installed on-premise won’t work for your needs. Make sure you can access the software when and where you need it. Cloud, or Software as a service (SaaS) products are best for people without a dedicated in-house IT department and dealing with less sensitive data or industries without strict data privacy regulations. 

If you’re on a property and considering the different land and zoning constraints, you need to have instant access into your database of zoning, building and municipal codes in real-time -- not when you return to the office. Additionally, if you install a software on-prem, know that it might get used less, resulting in a lower ROI and decreased efficiency.

Also consider how many people will use the program. If you need to collaborate and communicate with others on the software, this is another reason to use a cloud-based program rather than an installed program. 

Next steps to take

With all of this considered, make a list of every software that meets your requirements and needs. Use a spreadsheet or document to compare the different metrics of the programs, your goals and requirements and collaborate with your teammates so everyone is on the same page. 

By developing a long list of every possible option, you can cut down the solutions that don’t compare or offer the features and benefits you need. Once you have a long list of offerings and potential solutions, cut this down into a shortlist of the top 10 and then down to your top 3-5. 

Look into these top 3-5 more, and request a demo or contact the providers to get more into the details and niche offerings. We don’t recommend requesting more than 5 demos, because they’ll all blend together and it’ll be overwhelming. When you’ve nailed down your top 2-3 software, make a detailed list of pros, cons and other thoughts when reviewing the demo, communicating with their reps and trying to set up an appointment. The responsiveness of their communication might be worth noticing because it might reflect the speediness and responsiveness when you will later request services or support. 

Every organization has different software needs, so selecting the “industry leader” or the most popular solutions isn’t a good path to take. If you ask the questions above, you’re one step closer to finding the right solution for you, and one step closer to improving your business. 

PermitDocs - the ultimate property information tool

Get ahead and stay ahead of the industry with innovation driven by problem-solvers just like you.  

PermitDocs is your all-in-one source for land development information – we don’t just supply the municipality codes at a click, we also provide all of the zoning and building codes relevant for your projects. 

And, PermitDocs allows you to share, communicate and collaborate over all of this land information – bringing the boots and the suits together so that your team can communicate in real-time, reduce risk while planning and building, and feel confident that you’re making well-informed decisions with reliable information. 

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