by: Jon Struthers, Director of Application Development
At the start of most software projects there is a very simple, yet incredibly important, decision to be made. Should we use an out of the box solution? Really, there is no good answer for this in some situations, there are tradeoffs, and neither option is particularly appealing. But there are some clear-cut guidelines that you should keep in mind as you approach this decision. I’ll explore some of the considerations you need to make below, because the reality is that sometimes an out of the box solution will save you large amounts of time and resources and it will deliver industry standard practices that you can rely upon … other times though, it will deliver you only a high cost headache that fails to truly address the business concern you were looking to solve.
So when we start to delve into the depths of this decision we need to consider one thing above all else, that is competitive advantage … is what you are trying to achieve a part of your core business and strategy? If the answer is yes, then there are very few times where you will want to go out of the box, or even apply “best practices” for that matter. The reality here is that standard solutions are just that, standard, and they have their place. But in order for your business to survive and thrive in this high paced world we find ourselves in, the one thing that boxed solutions or best practices will ensure is that you are always watching your competitors make the breakthroughs. In the current market, where disruptive businesses abound, best practices and boxed solutions applied to your core business processes will enable you to fail in a safe, industry standard way.
The flip side of this are the supporting processes, things like payroll. In most cases these processes are just things you have to get done (unless you happen to be a payroll company), there are solutions out there which will enable you to both meet all of your government regulations while delivering your employees their paycheck, and that is typically going to be enough. Need a solution for supporting processes? There are hundreds of vendors out there that will be happy to help, and since it’s their job to follow and advise on industry best practice you can rest assured that the supporting aspects of your business will run happily while you focus on your core.
What else should we care about when making this decision? Most of it really comes back to how you generate your business value. What sort of flexibility does the solution have? Will the vendor be able to meet any custom demands you may have? And you do really care if it’s not flexible? Are your employees/users going to curse your name once the project is delivered? Is the cost saving appropriate compared to building something in house (considering both initial cost and ongoing maintenance)?
How easily will your business adapt to culture changes that the solution brings? Do you have any employees that will champion the product?
The reality of this decision is pretty simple, if you are confident that what you are trying to achieve doesn’t offer you any form of competitive advantage then you want to evaluate products that you can grab off the shelf, weigh up how well they meet your needs and how comfortable you are in the support offered. You may want to hire an implementation partner for that project, but out of the box should be a solid solution if you find the right match. If however, you need flexibility, creativity and the ability to adapt on the fly then you almost certainly want to go with a custom solution, and you need to make sure that you build into that solution the flexibility to adjust and realign for the future needs of your business, not just what you want today.
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