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Bespoke, Custom or Out of The Box CRM? What About Another Way?

Fully Configurable Software – The Best of Both Worlds

Author: Simon Bridgwater | Software Consultant | Formus Professional Software

We know that looking for a new software package can be a minefield. Given that most organisations have evolved gradually over time in terms of process and software solutions, it’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach with software, as even within the same industry there can be many different approaches to conducting similar business.

This will lead you to a dilemma...

"Do we opt for an out of the box solution ready-made do we instead, have a custom software package created?"

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What you may not have found during your investigations is that these aren’t your only options.

There is a third option, one that sits somewhere in the middle of these two approaches and gives you the best of both worlds.

Fully Configurable Software

Imagine if you could take that out of the box piece of software, pre-designed for your particular need, and actually be able to bend it to your will as well?

Introducing the concept of the configurable solution!

A pre built AND customisable option to suit your organisation. Dynamics 365 is an example of exactly that.

Before we tuck into this a bit more, let’s look at some of the language that may be used out there, (and in here) to describe your ideal system and the important things to bare in mind.

Configurable vs. Customisable

Throughout this article we’ve used the word configurable and customisable – and they’re not used interchangeably. The words configurable and customisable are often misleading, as out of the box software suppliers often claim that their software can be configured or customised for your organisation. What they tend to mean though, is that your use of the software can be tweaked using a pre-existing list of settings or parameters, but the software can’t truly be changed to do exactly what you need, without working outside the existing code of the system.

It gets even more confusing when we find the the word being used interchangeably on a regular basis in the industry, even when talking about software that is primarily configurable. We ourselves sometimes have fallen into the trap but to help make it clearer in technical terms, see our distinction below.

Configurable

When we talk about software that can be configured, we mean changes that can be made without adding any additional code or amending any existing code within the software, yet can change the fundamental way in which you use the software to suit. Examples of this within Dynamics 365 include adding or removing fields, changing the layout of forms and views (screens and lists), making fields required or not required, and adding in business processes.

Customisable

When we talk about software that can be customised, we mean changes that require additional code to be added to the software.
Whilst this is also possible to do within Dynamics 365, we try to make configurable changes as much as possible instead, as they’re generally more robust and easier to support. In some cases though, customisations are unavoidable, requiring a team of skilled developers experienced in writing such changes.

We have both capabilities at our fingertips here, which is why we feel passionately about letting you know the difference, leaving you to make more informed decisions.

Out of the Box Software – Why Not?

Examples of out of the box software: SalesForce, HubSpot, Zendesk, Freshsales

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Out of the box software can seem like the most attractive option when taken at face value. This type of software is generally developed for a specific purpose or even for a specific industry.

Due to the targeted nature of such packages, it’s easy to fall in to the trap of thinking that the software will be ready to go and suitable for you, given that there are lots of other similar organisations using the same solution.

In reality, out of the box software projects can leave you fraught with frustration. The software might do the basics very well, however, as soon as you need what seems like a minor tweak to the software to fit in with your processes, you could well find yourself very restricted.

Out of the box software is made to cater to a mass-market, even the simplest of changes may be considered unnecessary for the wider customer base, and so instead you’d have to find workarounds to bypass the system for these scenarios. This often ends up being less cost effective then you may have first been promised.

This kind of software frequently comes with promises that they are configurable or customisable, allowing each organisation to use the software in a way that suits them. However, the use of these terms is misleading, as the options available tend to be limited to a list of pre-defined system settings. So, while you might want to move a certain field to another location on the screen, or make a certain field required to fit in with your process, you’re very likely to find that this won’t be possible in an out of the box software solution.

Custom Software – Is This The Only Alternative?

At the other end of the software spectrum is custom software. Often referred to as ‘bespoke’, ‘tailor-made’ or ‘ground up’ software, this is a piece of customised* software that is written to your requirements.

Custom software is usually marketed under a company brand selling bespoke software development, rather than a software product name.

Those who have been previously burned by the limitations of out of the box software packages often find themselves looking at custom software as an alternative.

After all, if a software package has been written exactly based on your own specifications, what are the downsides? Right?

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Unfortunately, custom-made software does have its downfalls.
For a start, even simple solutions can be very expensive to develop. They’re being written in code entirely from scratch, so even getting the framework in place to build the software upon can be a pricey endeavour. There’s a database to create, a user interface to build, as well as all the functionality of the software to write, before you even get to testing and implementing the software.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of tailor-made custom software is being at the mercy of the commissioned company. Given that you’re the only organisation using that exact piece of software, it can also be difficult for anyone other than the people who created it to maintain or even change it over time. So If you ever want to change anything in the future you have to accept whatever prices they ask of you, or else have another company completely review and redevelop the same software. Additionally, if the company or individual who built the software ceases trading, you can be left with a very expensive software solution that no-one else can effectively support. You’ll also be responsible for identifying and reporting all of the bugs that exist and will effectively act permanently as guinea pigs for your own solution.

Thankfully, expensive custom tailor-made software isn’t the only alternative to unadaptable.

Configurable Software – How Does It Work?

As mentioned, Dynamics 365 is an example of a configurable software package, which falls somewhere in between out of the box and custom software.

Configurable software can be used like an out of the box solution in that it is effectively ready to go and can be used for its intended purpose with little change needed.

However, this type of software really comes into its own when it is configured to suit the needs of its users.

In those scenarios whereby you want to make changes to suit your organisation, the following suggested changes (as well as many more examples) are all possible through configuration:

  • add a new field to a screen, or remove a field
  • make a field required based on certain scenarios
  • add a new step into a business process
  • completely change the layout of a form to make it most usable by your business
  • add an entirely new set of forms and fields with links to existing areas of the system
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The best part is, in the case of Dynamics 365, all of the above such changes are covered by Microsoft’s own support, meaning that even though the system has been changed to suit your organisation, you are safe in the knowledge that you still have a fully maintainable solution unlike with custom software.

What’s more, if you do have complex requirements that require additional code to be written, such customisations are possible with Dynamics 365, and are also supported by Microsoft.

So, configurable software really does give you the best of both worlds.

What’s more, with such a highly configurable existing platform, if you need further “tailor-made” style software development, you can actually combine this with your configuration. You really can have your cake and eat it, and, you can have it at any stage of your readiness or requirement.

We particularly value placing emphasis on continuous improvement of configurable software because, unlike with out of the box or custom solutions, we don’t necessarily see implementation of Dynamics 365 as one expensive, big project.

Instead, we offer to support and gradually evolve the software over time to meet your needs. So, as your organisation grows, the software is able to change and grow with you.

At a Glance Overview

Putting it all together, below is a condensed version of what we have been taking about. The comparison table should help you easily identify what is important to you. Its not easy making the choice and we know there are many other factors to consider alongside these but we hope this will help.

Features Configurable (D365) Custom Software Out of The Box
Personalised solution Yes Yes No
Software Life-cycle High Longevity as the solution is extensible and regularly updated by Microsoft. Longevity can vary depending on the resource of the developers. Businesses can often outgrow these systems.
Configurability Can easily make configuration changes to fit in with business requirements. Can be configured by the developer to fit in with business requirements. Very limited configurability, usually providing just a list of system settings that can be tweaked.
Customisation Offers massive customisation opportunities. Can be heavily customised but relies again on the developer’s resource and cost. Customisations will only occur if the change benefits the wider user base.
Support Even with heavy customisation it is done in a way that can still be supported by Microsoft. Formus Pro also provide responsive support. Support tends to be slow because of the unique nature of the software. There is a risk of the software becoming unsupported if the developer moves on or ceases trading. Can only often be provided by the software provider themselves.
Functionality Functionality equal to out of the box products but can be built upon. Often limited depending on the developer’s abilities. Good functionality due to a lot of resource into the product but tends to not meet all requirements or the functionality may not be relevant.
Training / Usability Intuitive user interface which is easy to familiarise with as it is tailored to your existing business functions. Easy to pick up as it is designed specifically for your business. Typically requires a large amount of training and testing to familiarise users, as business processes have to adapt to the software.
Reliability Core product is developed and maintained by Microsoft leading to good reliability. Formus Pro’s expertise and use of best practice will give you reliable customisation on top. Depends heavily on the developer’s practices and quality. Also depends on their goodwill to adapt upon environment changes. Typically reliable as resource is all invested into the one product.
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