Customization and other four-letter words
When it comes to customization, enterprise software is seen the same way as goods produced on an assembly line, as impossible to customize. Enterprise software market is not by any standards a mass market. Why does it then garner the same attitude towards customization as mass market products? In order to understand this, we need to understand how enterprise software has been traditionally developed.
Typically, client input is filtered, prioritized, and distilled by product management in large software companies to decide what features end up in the next version of their ERP or CRM systems. At this point, a number of features don’t make the 80/20 cut and so you can imagine the organizational frustration within the software companies when those same rejected features are requested by their potential clients. On the other hand, some feature requests from clients are truly unforeseen by the software companies and there is simply not enough time to react to these requests in real time.
So the typical response to requests for customizations falls into one or more of the below categories:
* Position features in the software as ‘best practices’. This implies that all other features, including the ones that the client is requesting as not being the best way to do things.
* Drop the price if the client takes the product without customizations
* Scare the client with higher maintenance costs of customizations
* Acquiesce to client requests and rely on partners, who are not the original software designers, to do the customizations
* Promise the features in a later release of the software
However, none of the above approaches really address the client’s need for features that are important to their business. In today’s world, businesses have to grow and adapt to their competitive environment much faster than enterprise software companies can add features into their packages. This can only be achieved by software that can truly map the client processes rapidly. While the above reaction to customizations may seem rational from the perspective of the software company, it results in unsatisfied clients. From the perspective of the client, it would be absurd to change their business to meet the so called ‘best practices’ in the software. No wonder then, that 51% of clients implementing ERP systems view their implementation as a failure. Would you buy a million dollar customized car if there’s only 49% percent chance that it will work for you?
It is time to stop treating enterprise software like mass market products. The software that will truly accelerate the businesses of the 21st century will have rapid customizability in its very core, taking a Lego block approach than a mass produced approach. Such an approach gives the best of both worlds – reliability of a packaged product and customizability that can accurately map the client processes.