The True Costs of Customization, and What to Do Instead
When it comes to software, "customization" is a wolf in sheep's clothing. On the surface, customization seems like a great concept: we'll build some piece of functionality that is truly unique, and fits your business case like a glove. Given any issue, customization is the fastest way to solve a problem... the first time. Long term, however, it's a terrible strategy. A close cousin of customization, configuration, is often a much better solution. We'll talk about that soon.
In the words of Douglas Adams, one of my favorite authors, in Chapter 2 of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
Software is complicated. Business process automation software doubly so.
The oft-misunderstood complexities of software and of business processes can result in an unacceptable risk to everybody — lest of all the customer. As changes are made further down the software stack, the true cost of customization becomes apparent: scope creep, and the reduced ability to do upgrades or further changes. What seems like a small change can turn into a major undertaking, because as programmers go further into the rabbit hole, the devilish details start to add up.
The beauty of properly-implemented business software is that everything is seamlessly connected and functions in harmony with everything else. Once you start customizing, you risk introducing dissonance into this perfect harmony. Small changes end up having unpredicable effects throughout the entire system, and it's not usually obvious when the project commences.
So what do you do when you need something custom? One solution is to configure, rather than customize. Configuration limits your risks because you limit the number of variables in play, and it's much, much easier for our QA department to handle!
Do you really need customization? Do you customize Microsoft Word? Or do you configure it? Do you customize your web browser? Or do you configure it and possibly install add-ons from trusted vendors?
Before you start down the rabbit hole of custom software, consider how it might impact your ability to compete in the future. Chances are very high that the long-term costs of customization may be higher than you expect. More often than not, the juice just isn't worth the squeeze.
Steven L SmithCo-Founder and CEO
Steven L Smith is the CEO of Perdix Software, which he co-founded in 2014.
He spends what little spare time he has enjoying travel, fast cars, and cooking.