We all have some software, hardware or a system which we bought because we were sure it would be valuable, and yet it sits gathering dust or is at least underutilised, having failed to fulfil its promise.

We believe there are three main reasons this happens:

  1. We buy without good cause
  2. We commit to a solution too early
  3. We are afraid to cancel or terminate a project

Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.

Buying for the right reasons

Suppliers spend a lot of money on advertising, events, business development teams and salespeople with the sole purpose of suggesting to you that you need their product or service.

Their approach will include scaring you, enticing you and incentivising you. No wonder you sometimes feel pressured into purchasing.

However, if you want the buzz of buying some technology, buy yourself a new phone or smartwatch; don’t feel pressured into buying an enterprise system for your practice.

Committing too early

Most major purchases entail a commitment of several years, either because the supply contract stipulates this or otherwise because the return on investment, both hard cash and human resource, would not be worthwhile in the short term. Suppliers will push and cajole to get you to sign up for a major commitment.

To counteract this, you should avoid wherever possible signing a contract for the supply of the solution until you have built and tested as much of the solution as you can, involving the people who will be using it in the process.

Remember that just because you are the budget holder for a new purchase you are probably not actually a heavy user of that purchase, so give the team who will be using it plenty of time to come to their own conclusions.

Don’t be afraid to cancel

Even if you have worked through the design phase and you are satisfied, and you’ve engaged your users, other factors may still come into play to derail the purchase. Your circumstances might change – a new office, or closing an office, or a purchase of another firm, or abandoning a service line. Or you may have inherited the project from a preceding management board that you don’t want to progress.

Whatever the reason do not be afraid to cancel a project, even if it is going to cost you money. Zombie projects become zombie systems, and will ultimately cost you more money in the long run, in terms of lost productivity and diminished staff confidence and engagement, than simply cutting it short.


Good systems start by thoroughly understanding your own needs, and then procuring the products and services that most accurately meet those needs. There are no shortcuts here: choose carefully and force the vendor to do what you want, reminding them that this is in their interest as much as yours.

This article has been all about getting value from what we buy. But there is competition for budgets and resource. How do we choose where to spend these? A longer version of this article was first published by DFK International in its IT newsletter.


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