When it comes to implementing software, there are many things to consider, from financial costs to cultural costs. The most favored solution at the beginning, may not be the most suitable option once you start to understand your data touchpoints and the wider implications on your firm.
So, how can you balance your options when considering the bigger picture?
What is out-of-the-box, what is configuration, and what is customization?
Typically, out-of-the-box is the most straightforward and cost-conscious way of implementing a piece of software and while it’s generally a good starting point, it may not be the be-all and end-all for users. Although out-of-the-box could be as simple as ‘plug and play’ software, most businesses need something extra to suit their needs, which is where configuration, or possibly customization, comes in.
Configuration is often the mid-ground; it provides set-up options to users that are natively part of the software. This approach allows firms to choose suitable solutions that may require some procedural change but typically ones that are tolerable, particularly considering the cost savings realized in the implementation and ongoing maintenance and ownership.
A customized solution is the most tailored and personalized way of implementing software, it does what it is specifically designed to do—built to suit. While a custom solution can tick all of the boxes and allows you to cater to your protocols or procedures, it doesn’t come without its costs, both for the implementation itself and go-forward ownership.
What are the benefits of each?
There can be a long process that comes with software selection and implementation. Determining how best to move forward and ultimately the benefits of either depend heavily on what you want to achieve. You have to find the balance between the individual needs of your business and what can be tolerated in terms of change for your teams.
For instance, if you’re looking for distributed reporting that allows users to query for their own particular view and data, this could be a customization with a large price tag. However, the benefit and reward may far outweigh any associated cost. Ultimately, you’re passing a tool, not just a report, to your users. The benefit of this customization would be that it’s completely tailored to your firms’ needs.
However, don’t over-engineer something that does what it needs to do out of the box. As a result, you’ll lower costs and simplify the implementation and ownership.
What are the costs?
With either out-of-the-box or customization, the range of financial costs varies, depending on what your needs are. There are well-packaged cloud or on-prem software options that allow for configurations. But the face value monetary cost of the software isn’t the only cost you need to consider, you must consider the cost of time, change for employees, and integration with other systems (whether push and/or pull).
Whilst out-of-the-box software is quicker and seemingly ‘simpler’, you may need to fit the way you work much more around the solution. Whereas, if you choose to customize or configure the software, it will likely feel more familiar to your firm and slot more seamlessly into your operations.
However, the cost of customization is far higher both financially, and in terms of time. This style of implementation usually requires a larger pool of resources—both internal and external. If software changes are not something your firm does regularly and with great familiarity of process, it’s highly recommended that implementation experts are brought in to share their knowledge and experience to ease the burden.
Also, consider this: if you recreate what you do today on a new software platform, are you getting the most out of that new tool? Have you investigated how best to get to the needed result, or only stayed on the familiar path for fear of, or resistance to, change? Is the additional effort and cost going to provide a long-term solution and realize ROI?
It’s always possible that when investing in a customization that in subsequent years the very thing you’ve built becomes a part of the core product. However, if there is customization need now and you’ve weighed the impact and costs, then you can’t be held back by what the future may or may not bring in a software update. Unfortunately, this risk is just part and parcel of customization.
To put it simply, it’s not just a ‘one size fits all’ answer. Knowledge of your systems landscape is critical, be informed. Build a budget factoring in ancillary products/systems as well as the involvement of other affected functions or departments and seek expert advice as it will likely save you in the long run.
Key things to consider when finding the balance
Look at the full program of change from start to finish, not just in the area where the software is being implemented, but across the whole organization.
Document and inform who’s going to be involved or affected by the change so that you can keep the right people and functions involved at the right time. Create a diagram of touch points for systems, so that you can keep track of which systems are integrated and how they are set up. This will help you understand what systems need to be refreshed when certain software updates or when changes occur, meaning you can avoid business errors and risks.
How does my decision in the context of one system impact the bigger technology ecosystem of the firm?
One system can have a ripple effect on other systems and departments, so it’s vital from the beginning of the project that wider teams are involved. Especially, if the integration has touch points that may be outside of your knowledge.
There’s a huge benefit to doing this and having a steering committee within your firm to help guide the communications of technology. It allows the stakeholders, who may not be directly involved in the implementation, to be aware of what’s happening and when so that any piece that requires an opinion or information from another area can be thought of, communicated, and understood.
What does this strategic thinking mean for my firm in the long-run?
The goal of technology is not only to have a source system with accurate data, or a platform to build, but it’s to give you the efficiencies of automation and ease of use that allow you to reduce your cost of ownership.
If you can generate a return on investment by improving day-to-day efficiencies and replace a manual activity with an automated workflow, you can generate huge wins for your firm. But it’s not just about new solutions, it’s about maintaining the balance between new and existing so that everything runs smoothly day to day, that’s the balancing act.