Sourcing a new software supplier can be a long, drawn out, painstaking process. This is particularly true when it comes to choosing a new customs software provider. In our experience, from initial enquiry to firm order can literally take years, and rightly so. It’s not a decision that should be taken lightly given the potential expenditure involved and penalties if you get it wrong. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 12 things you’ll need to take into consideration before you make your selection;
1. Work out what you need
Not as easy as it may sound, unless you employ a customs specialist. However, most importers/exporters will at least have experience of sending their declarations to the relevant customs authorities so should have a decent idea of what they need. Make a list of “must-haves” and “like-to-haves” – it will make it much easier to work out if any given solution is a good fit for your business and reject the elements you don’t need.
2. Make sure they know your business
All companies are different and have different needs, even within their own sector. It’s therefore vital that any prospective customs software provider gets to know and understand your business really well. This gives them the opportunity to establish your precise software requirements specific purely to your organisation. You certainly don’t want to be paying for anything you don’t need.
3. Make sure they know their business!
It probably goes without saying but obviously it’s incredibly important that your software supplier knows their stuff. This is particularly important when it comes to customs software. Customs legislation and regulations is a really complex area with very little margin for error. Compliance is an absolute must as the penalties for mistakes or oversights can have potentially enormous consequences for businesses. At Langdon Systems, we train all of our staff to become customs experts so when you speak to any member of our team, whether they’re on the support desk, in the projects team or a lead developer, you know you’ll be speaking to a customs specialist.
4. Meet their key people
You’re entering into a contract that’s, hopefully, going to last a long time so, as with any relationship, trust between the parties involved is essential. Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and trust can really only be built up over time, but it’s always good to meet any personnel that are likely to be key points of contact if only to give you reassurance that they’re up to the job. We’re very proud to have built up trusting relationships with all of our clients, some of which have been with us for more than 20 years.
5. Do they offer after sales support?
The support team will be the main point of contact once the software is up and running so you need to be confident they’ll be able to fix any issues quickly. Even with the most reliable of systems, problems will occasionally occur but you’ll need them rectified fast, so ask what knowledge and experience the relevant personnel have in dealing with such issues. Purchasing software is not a short term investment so you need to be sure any potential supplier is in it for the long haul. Find out how long they’ve been in business. What are their plans are going forward? Are they planning to grow or are they downsizing? Are they looking to sell the company in the near future? You certainly don’t want to discover 12 months down the line that they’re selling up and can no longer offer the same level (or any) support with your system. With over 30 years in the business, and an independence that we’re fiercely proud of, Langdon Systems’ clients can be confident we’ll be around for a long time yet.
6. See the product in operation
Theory is one thing but practice is another. Don’t simply take their word that the software is “all-singing-all-dancing”. Ask for a demonstration. Better still, ask to see a “live” system in use at a current client. This gives you the added opportunity to quiz the user not only about the software but, as existing users, what they perceive as the suppliers strengths and weaknesses. More about this later….
Are you sure the software will integrate with your existing systems? This is something you really need to nail down right at the start. You can’t afford to spend a lot of time and money on software that ultimately can’t work with your existing system. Also, ensure your current operations will not be disrupted by the integration. A good integration should be seamless.
Ask them how they intend to implement the new software. A clean and flawless implementation is the key to the ultimate success of the whole project. It’s an opportunity to iron out any rough spots and make the tweaks necessary to give the optimum performance of the system. An experienced Project Manager is essential to the smooth running of the process. They will produce a plan based on your individual requirements and provide you with the regular communication necessary to give you peace of mind that the project is on track.
9. Scalability/Flexibility of the product?
Any buyer should ask and understand the level of customisation and scalability a software solution can offer. Customs legislation is constantly changing – the consequences of Brexit, for instance, will not be fully known for some time yet – so you need to be confident that any system is flexible enough to accommodate these changes as and when they happen in the future. The last thing you want to be faced with is the need to re-evaluate and invest in a new solution in 2 or 3 years time if the existing system is unable to handle the changes.
10. How are upgrades/updates handled
Are existing customers kept in the loop about new developments and upgrades? New functionality is being designed all the time, sometimes as a result of a client request or, more importantly, as new customs legislation is implemented. With the latter, there is no room for error. The client base needs to be informed regularly and it’s vital that any updates have to happen before the new regulations are enforced. As a matter of course, any upgrades that are made as a consequence of request made by a new or existing Langdon Systems customer are offered to any of our existing clients where it may be of benefit, often without charge.
Is it easy to use and train people? Does the training cost? It’s essential your provider is going to train up your users. Ensure that any costs for training are included upfront. One of the main issues with a new software system is user adoption. Once your users know how to use the system efficiencies and productivities will increase!
12. Track record
What kind of reputation have they got? What do their customers say? How long have they been a client? Are they in the same industry as you with (broadly) the same needs? How has this provider addressed their specific needs as a company? Happy clients are always willing to share their experiences. Following on from an earlier point, at Langdon Systems, we go one further than recounting testimonials; we arrange for prospective clients to visit existing users on site and, unless specifically requested to do so, we won’t accompany them to the premises. We do this so prospective buyers feel they can ask our existing clients in-depth questions and feel confident that they’ll receive open and honest answers, and not guarded ones that are in any way affected as a result of us being present. Ask them how, in their experience, they measure up with all of the above points.
Choosing a new customs software provider can be a challenging process and it’s not something that you can cut corners with. Select a supplier that doesn’t have the necessary knowledge, experience and infrastructure can land you in a whole heap of trouble. But you can significantly improve your chances of success by considering the points above as you search for the perfect customs software vendor for your business.
Langdon Systems is a software solution provider based in the UK and the Netherlands with more than 30 years experience of the design, development and implementation of duty management systems throughout Europe.