It is no secret in the business world that Cloud Software is booming. Over the past 20 years, it has gone from strength to strength and is frequently the more preferred option. As Head of Business Development here at 3EN, I am responsible for overseeing the sales, and more often than not I am heavily involved in the sales process from beginning to end. While a major part of the sales discovery is understanding who your competition is and discussing which piece of software can best manage certain areas of business, often a large part of the conversation is around whether or not the chosen software is out of the box or customised.
Over time, and multiple discussions with different businesses, I have come to realise that customising seems to be a daunting word, and the preference very much seems to be an out of the box solution. However, while 3EN believe in achieving the best fit, and while customising software is not always necessary, the benefits of using business software that can be tailored to your specific business needs should not be ignored.
Firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘Out of the Box’ and ‘Customised’.
Software that is classed as Out of the Box (OOTB or Vanilla can also be used) means that features and processes that are part of the software can be used almost immediately with minimal configuration. Certain features or functionality may have to be switched on, but this can be done by a basic IT user, but this is more "configuration" rather than customisation.
In this article, we will not be discussing "bespoke software", that is software that is built from the ground up for your organisation. Our definition of "customised" is software that has features and functionality which can be customised or tailored to your specific business needs, including methods such as workflows, scripting, fields, & forms which can be tailored to your requirements. Basic customisation can usually be done by someone who is trained in the specific software, while heavy customisation, such as scripting, should be carried out by someone who is trained to do this, such as a Software Engineer.
So what are the pros and cons?
With these definitions defined, what are the real pros and cons of OOTB vs Customised ERP Solution?
Cost is likely a major factor in your decision-making process. An out-of-box solution may tempt you with a lower price tag from the start, but this lower price tag can normally be at the cost of a great deal of compromise. Sometimes this can be worth it, if you are small enough, flexible enough, and agile enough, some compromise is definitely worth the cost. The reality is that you probably have some amount of complexity somewhere in your organisation, and this often means that the savings of an OOTB solution are outweighed by the dangers of a solution that creates more complexity that you started with.
The bottom line is that while OOTB is nearly always cheaper than a customised solution, you need to ensure you do your due diligence, your research, and include major stakeholders in the decision. The cost of an OOTB solution that doesn't fit creates a far bigger financial problem for your organisation than investing in a solution that fits your specific complexities and specific requirements.
Ensure that your customisation is needed before you undertake a project to get what you need. Take the time to understand that market, the solution you need, and what each offering can do for you. If you find a platform that covers 80% of your requirements, your onto a good one. Measure and weigh up the customisation that is necessary, and which is not. The less customisation you need to do, the better. Storming in with the idea of completely hacking a system is always a sure-fire way to cause more issues than you need when the project gets rolling.
Find a solution that requires the least amount of customisation for your requirements and a partner that has displayed the ability to undertake any customisation professionally and specifically in line with your needs.
What are your plans moving forward? Does an OOTB platform provide you with the structures, processes and flexibility to scale? Does it support your strategy and objectives? These are all areas that an OOTB solution falls short, hence the struggle with version lock-in solutions. Customised software often places more of the power in your hands. Though finding an OOTB solution that supports scalability and drives agility, whilst ensuring you don't get stuck in a locked-in version, is a great opportunity.
The ultimate objective is ensuring that the partner and platform you are working with understands your future plans, objectives and goals, and can demonstrate a solution that will support these aspirations. Usually, customised solutions proved you with greater scalability, though the right OOTB solution could still be the answer. Again, the clincher is ensuring that your partner or provider can demonstrate how their solution will deliver against your strategy.
As you can see, weighing the "OOTB vs Customised" solution argument up is no easy feat! This is because every organisation is unique, resulting in differing requirements, goals, objectives, and visions. The complexity is this, there is no complete right or wrong, it all comes down to ensuring you are getting a solution, and not just a platform. Any organisation can demonstrate a ERP platform, but demonstrating a solution to your requirements is often overlooked. Before you even begin looking for a solution, ensure you have documented your requirements, reviewed you needs, and understand you organisations strategy moving forward. Find a solution that can deliver the most against these areas, then out of your top 3, discover which partner can support your customisation needs against your requirements.
It's a complex situation, but every business goes through it, what matters most is understanding your own needs first, then finding a partner and solution second!