A few months ago I met a woman who had worked on some very large software projects at Kennedy Space Center. When she asked me what we did and I replied that we were a custom software development company, writing custom business software for over 20 years, she asked why we even existed. Her mindset, understandably, was that all of the “big” packages had the flexibility and agility needed to fulfill the needs of any business so why have custom software developed? Good question. Why would anyone want to write custom software systems, whether done internally or by an outside custom software development company?
Why indeed? Aren’t all the “big” guys covering it all? Well, to be absolutely truthful here, the answer is…..hmmmm……. wait for it……. “It depends”! Gee! Who knew? Those ERP/CRM enterprise packages that “do it all”, usually do that and so much more that they are extremely complicated to implement, even more difficult to use, and the cherry on top, VERY expensive. There are myriad stories of the complexities of using a big package and, sadly, very few of those are stories have a happy ending.
So, how do you know if you need a package or a custom solution? Here are 3 reasons to consider having a custom business software solution developed for your business:
1. You have unique business processes that give you a competitive advantage.
We worked with a custom home builder who had a very unique way of tracking their budgets and costs on projects. They had tried to implement a software package, which included a great deal of customization, but ultimately our client ended up adding people to help support the data and input requirements on the packaged solution, to the point of adding 20% more people to their bottom line. I know, you think that’s ridiculous. But think about it. If the software is so complex and requires data that is ultimately meaningless to the overall business, but requires this data to function, isn’t it possible that it would mean adding people to “check those boxes?” I’ve seen it on multiple occasions; it’s sort of like the old expression, “you have to go around your elbow to get to your knee”. Software, for all of its emphasis on workload reduction and business process efficiency, can actually create more work just to keep the monster fed. If the package solution was designed for a similar yet different business, often the core system is much more complex than the average business needs because it’s trying to be all things to all businesses.
2. Employees have created “stealth” systems to work around your current solution.
We’ve seen dozens of times where employees are so frustrated with the package they are forced to use that they create spreadsheets and internal systems (often using an Access database which management knows nothing about) just to get their jobs done. Employees will usually try to do their best to work within the constraints of the business software solution, but eventually give up and create their own tools to help them track the data they need. We had a client who was implementing a huge ERP package and during the requirements phase I was talking with one of the customer service folks. I predicted that within 3 months of go live the entire company would be run by spreadsheets. Sure enough when I was in there several months after their go live, the person to whom I had made this comment showed me all the spreadsheets she was using for her job. She asked me “How did you know I would be using spreadsheets to do my job?” I said I saw that the implementation team was not gathering the requirements from the right people and seemed to think they “knew” what needed to be done. The ultimate software solution was much more complex than this client truly needed and forced employees to create workarounds.
3. A software package is available but will require extensive customization.
You have found a solution that will work if you customize it and this hybrid solution may be a great answer for your business. However, keep in mind that you will likely pay for that customization every time your software provider releases an upgrade. We have had clients who have not upgraded their packaged software for over 7 or 8 releases (basically years) because the cost of the upgrade and subsequent re-customization was just too great. Not only may you wind up paying for the customization, but there may also be system design issues if the upgrades are very extensive, which may also result in training issues and reporting issues. We had a client who upgraded their packaged solution and none of their custom reports worked. The vendor could not figure out how to get them to work and threw up their hands, giving up. The client hired us to come in and put the reports back together again, which we were able to do, having never seen or worked with the core package before.
There are many reasons to use a packaged system but there are equally valid reasons to consider having your own custom business software developed to meet your unique needs. Finding a trusted partner for the requirements gathering and custom software design and development is paramount to the success of your project. If you find any of these three reasons listed above apply to you, we strongly suggest you consider a custom business software solution to meet your specific business needs.