So you've decided that you need to find new child care software to help you manage your center or preschool but with all the different software programs available it's difficult to compare them and decide on what's the best fit. Here are four things to keep in mind.
The first question you need to ask yourself is ‘What are the specific daily tasks I do today that software can help me with?’ These may be things like tracking attendance, scheduling, billing, forecasting, reporting etc. For many centers, the most important thing that software can help with is automating their reporting.
Good reports can quickly and easily show you the information that you need. Many centers are still creating their reports manually in programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and constantly need to update them with new information. A good software program will generate these reports automatically for you, saving you time and also minimizing the possibility of human error.
Ease-of-use is extremely important factor to consider when looking to find new child care software. Many child care centers have made the decision to purchase new software, but never ended up fully implementing it due to the complexity of the software and time that was required to make the transition. Good software will make your life easier, not more difficult. If your information is already stored in another software program, or even in Microsoft Excel, there are some software companies such as Sandbox Software, who are able to import the data directly into their program, saving you from having to manually enter it all in yourself.
Today web-based software is quickly replacing traditional desktop software due to it’s many advantages such as the ability to access the software from anywhere and it's compatibility with many different devices (often including tablets and smartphones). Web-based software doesn't need to be downloaded to your device, and you can easily log in securely to access all of your information anytime, and from anywhere. To read more about the advantages of web-based software, read our blog post The Advantages of Web-Based Child Care Software
Keeping your information secure is very important. Child, Family and Staff information is sensitive data, and needs to be stored securely. The child care software you choose should require a user name and password to login. Many of the newer software programs are web-based, making use of SSL technology to encrypt your data and prevent it from being accessed by unauthorized parties. To read more about how cloud software such as Sandbox will keep you information secure, read our previous blog post How secure is cloud child care software?
You will also want to look at how maintenance and support are provided with the child care software you choose. As with anything in life, computer software requires regular maintenance in order to run efficiently, so you should make sure that you select a software program from a company that clearly outlines their plan to provide you with support and maintenance. This enables you to easily budget the ongoing cost of using the software, accessing customer support, and keeping the software up-to-date with the latest features and improvements. Be sure to ask about any ‘hidden fees’ for technical support or new product upgrades.
Once you think that you've found the software program that handles the tasks you need, your last step is to use the software in order to properly evaluate it. Make sure that you have an opportunity to try the software out before you purchase to ensure that it is easy-to-use, and will help to make you more efficient. Most software companies will provide you with a free trial period where you can work through the software for a limited time at no charge. This will also enable you to compare two or three programs at the same time before ultimately deciding which one is the best fit for your child care center.