Customization of software doesn’t have to be a controversial topic. It’s reasonable to assume all but the simplest companies will need some customization to the software they’re purchasing. The amount of customization, however, can be a salacious topic worth dissecting further.

As we advise clients, customize selectively and typically only the secret sauce of what makes your company tick. Needed customizations should be planned for early in the process. The later a customization occurs in an ERP initiative the more it indicates something wasn’t accounted for or executed correctly.

In some cases, the cause might be attributable to a company making last minute changes. However, more commonly we observe an SI struggling to get the promised functionality to work as promised.

Think of a Rubik’s Cube. The world record for solving the square puzzle is 4.22 seconds, yet most of us would take far longer and some without skills or experience would give up on trying to solve the puzzle altogether. SIs are not created equal, so system integration is both an art and a science. Less experienced SIs can end up customizing a software that could have been configured by a more experienced integrator.

The salacious part is: how does a customer ever know the real reason something is done one way vs. another?

It’s not a straightforward path for a company to get “answers” on what a software can do via ERP configuration vs. customization. Software is built and designed to run on a platform and will have a host of native applications that work with it. Many SIs will often “specialize” in one or two software brands that they are most familiar working with but will offer their services on all types of software when they need work.

Back to the Rubik’s Cube example … the puzzle can be solved by an expert in less than 20 turns, but how realistic is that for inexperienced players?

Don’t tackle enterprise software selection on your own

The sophistication, complexity and flexibility of today’s software options rivals functionality that once could only be obtained via custom software development – say 10 years ago. Technological advances have been strong among the best ERP systems, top CRM systems and other enterprise technologies. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a software reseller is going to tell you what you want to hear. That is not to say that everything you’ll be told is wrong but getting from purchase to implementation is a long hard road – and the person selling you the software is often not the entity implementing it.

The goal should be to get expert independent help with software selection to get you as close to what your company needs from the software. You want to buy the shoe that fits best. This will help reduce the need for customization, while also reducing the risk of ERP failure.

The demo process can also be flawed unless scripts are written that match your actual requirements, and you have an independent referee (read consultant) working on your behalf. Not only will a good

independent enterprise software consultant be a referee, but they should present you with software options and choices that perhaps you didn’t even know about.

More expensive software choices (brands that advertise a lot) may not be the best choice for your business or budget. Keep in mind that a truly independent consultant like Third Stage Consulting is hard to find. If a consultancy has a financial incentive or arrangement with a software company – and many do – their objectivity can be skewed.

ERP, CRM, and HCM systems are complex. You just don’t turn it on as you would a washing machine once purchased. How it will integrate to accomplish what you’re looking for in terms of functionality, time and cost are part of the complexity of software selection. Usability/intuitiveness is also another big consideration of software selection that needs to be matched to the culture of your organization.

Choosing the right system integrator is as important as the right software

We hit upon this point in the beginning of this blog. Here are some additional guiding thoughts:

Talented system integrators can charge more because they know how to do more, and they may not be local. This is not an area where you want to try to save money. We repeatedly see budget overruns (and customizations) attributable to system integrators that are over their heads, have deployed inexperienced resources or are not the best pick for the job.

As with software selection, get some help choosing and vetting your system integrator from an independent consultant. By deploying the right resources everything from configuration to testing should run smoother.

Be flexible with your implementation schedule to the extent possible to secure the best internal team, consultants and system integrators. Chances are that the decision to choose new technology was a big decision for your company. There are many steps to an ERP initiative and far more prework and planning than most companies anticipate. The best resources may or may not be available when you’re ready to push the start button. That doesn’t mean that progress can’t begin.

Data migration and cleansing is a good example of a major initiative that is best initiated early on. Don’t settle for a system integrator just because they are readily and eagerly available, or they know someone that works for your company. There could be very good reasons why they are available immediately. The “Deloitte types” have cadres of employees benched and waiting.

Get an ERP professional to manage your customization process

The implementation of software is an iterative process with many decision-making points along the way. You’ll want a professional that understands the language of ERP (and ERP software) to help guide you – and create checks and balances. You have two major issues to deal with on this front:

Your internal stakeholders will request customizations because subconsciously they think the new system should act like the old system. Or perhaps employees have valid new requests/ideas of what they want the new system to do. Left unchecked, these requests (read customizations) will eat your budget and timeline whole, then spit it out.

New ideas are good, but approvals for customizations should be few and far apart and there needs to be a tight process for evaluating, scoping and approving requests. Sometimes a great idea is surfaced but it may not fit within the original scope and timeline of the initiative. All is not lost – these ideas should be captured and retained for possible future updates/enhancements to your system.

Once hired, chances are a system integrator will come to you with unplanned customizations and say they are needed to get the software to perform to match your company’s needs. Without an independent objective expert, you’re in the dark to do anything other than to agree. An ERP consultant should be able to tell if the request is valid, or if there are other options besides customization. Perhaps a process change could avoid the need for customization. An ERP expert knows when something is configurable vs. the much more expensive customization route.

In Conclusion

Most businesses will need some customization but controlling the amount of customization will only benefit your company, since customization will increase your costs and risks in multiple ways. The most obvious will be the added cost of time and money during implementation. The most expensive ongoing cost, however, is the realization that new releases of the software will need some intervention on your company’s part because you have made changes to the software.

The wild card is the risk customization adds to your initiative – a risk that never really goes away. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to heavily customize a software, it may mean the right software was not chosen or the process not controlled.

If you’d like our thoughts on customization or any other topic, that’s a conversation we’d love to have. Please contact us to brainstorm ideas to manage your digital transformation – we are happy to be an independent sounding board as you continue your journey!

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