10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting Your Enterprise Community Software

Make the best choice for your organization

Developer communities deliver tangible results throughout an organization – increased productivity, higher user satisfaction, greater engagement, and reduced support costs. With many software offerings, it can be difficult to choose a solution.

Unfortunately, many companies select a solution without well-defined expectations for their return on investment upfront. Executives and managers must consider more than just cost – they need to evaluate their present and long-term needs (will we need to scale?), identify key requirements (does this new tool need to integrate with existing software?) and determine what level of support employees or customers will need (what will site management look like?).

The following are 10 questions decision-makers should ask before selecting an enterprise community platform.

What Does My Business Need?

It’s important to find a solution consistent with your business strategy. The first step is to identify the goals and objectives of the community solution. Meet with influencers, users, and key stakeholders to document requirements, needs, and nice-to-haves. Make a list of important features and capabilities. For example, does your solution need to integrate with other technologies? How many users does it need to support today? Next month? Next year? Do you need to be able to control access to certain pieces of information? Gathering all of this information upfront will help identify the community platforms that are most relevant to your business needs.

How Do We Plan to Use the Community Software?

There are many types of community focuses, from knowledge management to developer relations, to marketing-focused (yes,  MARKETING). Going back to your business needs will help you narrow the category of solution you are looking for. You must also be looking forward when defining the scope of your solution. More robust solutions, like AnswerHub, will cover broad sets of needs. The three use cases for community solutions that we run into most are:

Question and Answer (Q&A) Sites – an enterprise-wide question and answer community that collects, organizes, and facilitates access to shared knowledge.

Developer Relations Portals – the collection and sharing of knowledge, ideas, and articles to facilitate innovation and ideation across the organization.

Developer Marketing Portals – this is a space to track users and creators using your software, understand who your advocates are, and increase adoption of paid solutions.

Some organizations want all three, however, it’s more typical that they start in one or two areas and expand.

How Much Work Can We Do? How Much Work Do We Want the Vendor to Do?

This is the classic “build vs. buy” discussion. Regardless of the size of your IT department, it’s unlikely anyone on your team has the experience to build an enterprise-level community solution from scratch. Even if you have a team of wizard programmers, the cost savings up front will yield to compounding costs of ongoing maintenance and support. Ultimately, with a large selection of enterprise platforms featuring extensibility, flexibility, and customization capabilities, building an in-house solution rarely makes sense.

That being said, can a turnkey solution be customized for your organization? Odds are, yes! Given the ability of platforms to map permissions and privileges to the real-world’s enterprise trust and authority structure, it’s likely you’ll be able to find a platform that meets at least 80% of your needs. As such, it makes sense to buy and customize your solution.

What Software Delivery Model Is Best for Our Organization?

Cloud-hosted vs. on-premise? Unless you’re an organization with strict requirements about keeping data onsite, a cloud-based solution makes the most sense. Could-hosted solutions reside on a third-party server (for AnswerHub, it’s Amazon’s servers) and require an internet connection to access. Services include updates, backups, and monitoring at no additional charge.

On-premise software installations reside on a server maintained by your organization’s IT department. This provides more control and validation, but also requires additional hardware and a dedicated IT department to manage.

What Is This Going to Cost?

Because cost is an important factor in your decision, it’s important to examine what is included in the pricing. For example, AnswerHub pricing includes customer service for standard installation and integration. Separate professional service agreements are available for services needed beyond the standard.

Ask each vendor what the average client pays for monthly support and then request recommendations from the company’s existing clients. This will allow you to verify the cost and gauge user satisfaction with the cost and responsiveness of support.

What Do Similar Companies Use?

Once you have determined your company’s use case, look at the platforms others in your industry use. Some platforms are better suited to small- and medium-sized enterprises (500 or fewer users) while others scale for enterprises. Identify the solutions that competitors use and review case studies to gauge effectiveness and satisfaction.

What Is the Vendor’s Technical Trajectory?

The best solutions evolve to meet the needs of the customer. Consider how frequently each platform is updated. Also, look at how the vendor gathers customer feedback and incorporates it into their product roadmap.

Will This Software Work With the Other Software We Already Use?

During your needs and wants analysis, identify what software you want to integrate with your enterprise community solution (Jive, SalesForce, etc.). Determine standard integrations with out-of-the-box vs. what will require a custom build or on-site IT staff. Also, consider whether the platform has a read, write, REST API to make integrations & customization as simple as possible.

How Will the Software Work on Mobile Devices? and Do We Need It To?

In today’s world, mobile is a key channel for interaction, but are your software engineers going to use their cell phones or a second/third monitor to find their answers? You need to choose a software that works effectively on all devices, but the primary concern should be an easy-to-use desktop solution.

What Can I Expect?

Once a solution is selected, plan a phased, iterative roll-out with sufficient time for evaluation and refinement at each stage. Also, have a conversation with the vendor about the level of support you will receive as a customer. For example, AnswerHub provides full customer support during business hours at no additional charge, as well as a dedicated success manager to help plan the growth of your community. In addition, network connectivity is continuously monitored with all issues being addressed immediately.

Before selecting a community platform, organizations must pinpoint their business objectives and identify requirements, budget, and support expectations. Laying the framework will guide decision-makers as they evaluate solutions and will allow them to justify a knowledge management program.