The Surprising Truth About Custom Software

Your business’ USP or Unique Selling Proposition is a unique aspect of your business that provides you with a competitive advantage. This could refer to a feature of your product, service aspect of your business or a specific process that allows you to beat competitors and grow your customer base. Sometimes your USP requires a specific piece of software or software customization to manage. However, before you jump into custom specifications and custom development, it is important to be aware of the downsides of custom software. Not only does custom software come with its own set of issues, it can encourage more complex business processes and product development.

Follow the 80% Rule

As a rule of thumb, it is always a good idea to try to find a business management solution that can address 75-80% of your business needs out-of-the-box. The other 20% can then be addressed through configuration, workarounds or lastly, through customization. If you’re struggling to find a solution that can manage the 80%, it may be because you’re looking for the wrong system, or it might be time to adjust your expectations and processes. This applies to whichever type of system you need – whether an accounting solution, CRM or all-in-one ERP. Unless your business operates in a very niche market, it is safe to assume that there is an existing solution that can meet most of your needs. While it is true that there may be certain processes that require a specific set of software tools, you could also be over-complicating processes based on old habits. This is especially true since most advanced software solutions will provide multiple ways in which to complete a process. Therefore, you can train employees on how to use the software in a specific way, as opposed to trying to find and customize a solution that provides limited tools.

This ties in with the MVP methodology. The idea is to find a system that allows you to operate business as usual, with the option to add additional features as needed down the road. At a minimum, you want to ensure employees can do 80% of their job using what is already included with the software.

Consider Future Business Disruptions

An important consideration when deciding to customize or not, is the potential for things to change down the road. Not just your business processes and strategic goals, but also other changes such as:

  • Technology changes
  • Government regulations
  • International trading rules
  • Competitor offerings
  • Customer/target market needs
  • Reporting requirements
  • Environmental/economic changes – think of COVID-19 as an example
  • Opportunities to increase efficiencies, etc.

When internal and external factors change – most of which are out of your control - your custom software will no longer work leaving you to either develop new custom or find a new solution. Neither of which is an ideal fix.

Configure the Software to Meet Your Needs

Another option over customization, is configuration. Most systems allow you to configure the software to meet your specific business processes. For example, configuration allows you to:

  • Turn on “flags” for specific actions such as customers over their credit limit, which prompts employees on what to do when that happens
  • Set-up available order statuses based on workflows
  • Automatically update a status, populate a field, email an employee etc. based on certain criteria being met

Many businesses require some small amount of customization when implementing software, however, too much customization and you start to run into problems.

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