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"During the selection of an enterprise software
product to replace the
company’s separate customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resources planning (ERP) systems,
rapid implementation was a concern."
Source : IFS
The Case Against Modifying Your Enterprise Software
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Consider the case of two hypothetical companies – Company A and Company Z
— each using an identical enterprise software package delivering identical core
functionality. Company A has the same number of users, but the total cost of ownership
(TCO) experienced by Company Z is about twice the TCO enjoyed by
How could this be the case? The answer is simple. Company A chose to implement
their software as-is – without modifications. Now let us define our terms.
Modification is not the same as customization. A modern, flexible enterprise application
suite should be easily customizable to cater to most business needs and tailor
the user experience – without altering the underlying code or business logic.
Modification implies actually altering the code and business logic running behind
- Modifications increase the cost of implementation as custom programming
becomes necessary to meet the specific demands. Modifications also increase the
cost of implementation by lengthening the project timeline.
- Modification increases the cost of technical support because a software company’s
personnel must maintain the modifications in its code management system.
- Modification increases the cost of upgrades as the modification must in most
cases be “uplifted” each time a new version of the software is implemented. And
this process once again lengthens the project timeline for the upgrade, increasing
both hard costs and the soft costs that can be felt across an organization.
But wait! Doesn’t Company Z obtain significant additional functionality or benefit
from the modifications? In most situations the answer to this question is, sadly, no.
Increased cost, little gain
When our customers want us to, IFS will in fact modify our enterprise applications.
But we strongly caution our customers – and anyone planning an enterprise software
project – against modifications. We have found that customers who run the
software as a stock product are happier with their investment. They have fewer
problems and find that their investment in enterprise software pays for itself and
starts yielding measurable financial rewards much more quickly than do companies
who run modified software.
Almost universally, the decision to purchase and implement an enterprise software
package is driven by legitimate and specific business needs. Companies need to
better coordinate projects and processes across departments, or streamline financial
reporting and analysis. You might invest in a software package to allow closer
collaboration with customers and suppliers, or to enable efficiencies that make
your company more competitive. These are all good reasons to research, select and
implement enterprise applications like those provided by IFS. You choose the software
and software provider that you feel will do the best job helping you reach
your business goals.
Those of us in the enterprise software business appreciate these business drivers,
and we have developed our software and support services to help you realize your
goals. But once a software product is selected for sound business reasons, we have
time and time again seen the same situation unfold. Through a desire to be inclusive
and respectful, and to ease the process of change, corporate leaders seek input on
the implementation process from employees throughout the corporate structure.
Employees suggest modifications that might do little to meet business goals, driving
up the cost of the software without delivering any improved functionality or performance.
We at IFS and have deep respect for those on the front lines of any business. But
once you get to a certain level in most corporate structures, an individual employee
will only have knowledge or understanding of their own role in the organization
rather than a broad understanding of the business as a whole. They may not be privy
to the business reasoning for changing the tools they work with every day. Many
software modifications that employees insist are necessary for them to continue
their current level of productivity are designed to preserve the status quo and
would do little to help the company reach its goals. In fact these modifications
could be counter-productive.
Many requested modifications turn out to be unnecessary, and simply duplicate
features already inherent in a new enterprise suite. Against our strongest recommendations
to the contrary, we have had customers ask us to deploy modifications
numbering well over 60, only to abandon most of those modifications shortly after
going live in favor of functionality already resident in the software. Obviously, we
want to avoid these situations and often have been able to sit down with customers
before the implementation process to review what can be long lists of “necessary”
modifications. But when we can convince our customer to run the software as-is
for 90 days, a fascinating thing happens. One at a time, requested modifications
drop off the list. This is because employees’ paradigms shift from the old to the
new system. They find that the new software system can in fact do what the old
one could do – and more. The new software environment is no longer a threat and
becomes a familiar, normal part of life.
Keep in mind that with a new enterprise software system, some employees
might find they have to go through additional steps to accomplish the outcomes
obtained with just one click in the legacy system. But they may not know how
much work, time and expense is saved elsewhere in the organization – generally in
accounting — because of the additional steps they are suddenly faced with.
Employees may not be aware that the alteration they are requesting will cost tens
of thousands of dollars up front and cost even more to maintain down the road.
In some cases, department leaders and employees may have legitimate concerns
about adopting new software. Perhaps their performance is measured in a way that
would be impacted by either the learning curve or by altered practices inherent in a
new enterprise software package. IT staff in particular can have concerns about the
adoption of a software package without modifications. After all, an IT department
that historically has devoted significant resources to modifying and maintaining
modifications to the legacy system could perceive a stock software package as a
threat to job security. Sensitivity to these concerns will help ease the transition
from a legacy system and build acceptance to the new software environment.
Mods to Watch Out For
Duplicating the Legacy System
“In the old system …” — those are four words to watch out for when employees
request modifications. It is only natural that users of a system become attached
to that system, and would request modifications to make a new software package
look and behave like the old one. In cases where real benefit can be derived
from hanging onto elements of a legacy system, it is much less expensive across
the lifecycle of a software package to integrate elements of the old system with a
new enterprise software package than it is to undertake custom programming –
given that the new package is flexible and granular enough to accomplish this.
Data Entry Aids
Another type of “convenience mod” we see is the modification that formats or
manipulates data as it is entered in the system so users can truncate information,
leave out special characters or in other ways shave time off of data entry. An
example might be a request to modify the system to recognize suffixes and
prefixes on part numbers and automatically fill out the remaining characters.
Fully-featured systems like IFS offer streamlined ways to enter standard data
like dates. But excessive modifications to streamline data entry tend to be pennywise
but pound foolish.
The “Do My Job” Button
Many requests for modifications involve stringing various elements of functionality
together, with the intended result of reducing the amount of work for the
user. Replacement of several steps within the application with an “add parts”
button, an “add purchase orders” or an “add customers” button are examples of
“do my job buttons.” As a result of the prevalence of consumer software packages
like Microsoft Excel, many users will refer to these modifications as
“Wizards.” It is natural for users to desire a single-screen way to do things. For
the uninitiated user, it makes sense that the new software package would require
less thought, effort and time with these “Wizard” modifications. But there is a
steep, slippery slope towards automating all of a user’s tasks so they can simply
push one button that does their job so they can go home! And after using a new
enterprise software package for a period of time, these expensive Wizards quickly
become obsolete as employees master the learning curve.
Common workarounds to avoid modifications
The above-mentioned modifications are requested not from a desire to achieve
your business goals, but by attempts to make the new software environment more
familiar and predictable to the hands-on user. A consumer product like Microsoft
Excel may be a familiar benchmark for many employees, but when you open Excel,
you are looking at a blank spreadsheet. An enterprise software package, however, is
not a blank slate. It is loaded with parameters and safeguards that prevent users
from entering incorrect data, violating accounting rules and otherwise running
afoul of established business practices. It is natural that an individual software user
would want all of the freedom of Excel with none of the ramifications that come
from all of that unbounded freedom.
At IFS, our philosophy is that we need listen to your suggestions or your
employees’ suggestions for modifications. And after listening over a period of
years, we have added functionality to our own enterprise applications that allow
data to be exported into Excel, manipulated and loaded right back into IFS
Applications. A robust enterprise suite will allow for this type of interoperability
– not only with Excel but with other proprietary and custom software. Prior to
returning to IFS Applications, however, our Spreadsheet Data Manager will run the
data back through our business logic, ensuring that the data returning to the application
conform to system requirements.
But exercise caution, because not every enterprise software system on the market
provides these safeguards when pushing exported data into a software package.
Take care that your shortcut to save $100 worth of effort does not cost you $20,000
in consulting time to fix corrupted data!
When does it make sense to modify enterprise software?
The case against modifying enterprise software is a strong one. Your standard software
offering is the product of millions of dollars of research and development and
extensive testing for reliable, consistent performance. The business logic and functionality
is based on best practices developed over many decades by successful
industries and taught by professional organizations like the Association for
Operations Management (APICS).
Used as developed, your enterprise software system will help you improve your
business processes, allowing you to engineer your business as opposed to simply
letting it evolve. Sometimes, a business may have developed practices that are unique
and do help them compete in the market. In those situations, when there is a defensible
business reason to modify the software and diverge from established best
practices, it may be possible to cost-justify the added expense.
But be on guard against software modifications that are not driven by legitimate,
measurable business needs. Justification of one such modification may open the
flood gates, and you will be hard-pressed to turn down other requests for modification!
About IFS and IFS Applications
IFS develops and supplies component-based business applications for
medium and large enterprises and organizations. IFS Applications,
which can be implemented step by step, is the most mature and stable
enterprise suite on the market, and has been based on a service-oriented
architecture (SOA) since 1994. The solution offers more than 60 enterprise
application components used in manufacturing, supply chain management,
customer relationship management, service provision, financials,
product development, maintenance and human resource administration.
IFS offers customers an easier more open alternative compared to
other enterprise software offerings. IFS serves customers in 45 countries,
with more than 550,000 users worldwide. The company is listed on the
Stockholm Stock Exchange (XSSE: IFS).
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