Configuration or Customization – what makes sense?

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As a society we are increasingly using online or cloud-based software in everything from buying clothes to managing our bank accounts. As you look around for cloud software for your organization’s needs, you’re quite likely to hear the terms “configurable” and “customizable” being thrown around, sometimes interchangeably. It’s critical that we understand the difference between these two terms.

A configurable system is an out-of-the-box solution that allows a user to personalize some aspects of the system themselves, without having to depend on experienced programmers. Configurable software is generally flexible and scalable and can be shaped to meet an organization’s requirements. While the system comes with a default configuration that works out-of-the-box, it generally lets you tweak the system with simple drop-down menus and lists to more closely reflect your own business. Configurable software gives you the advantage of best practices from the industry and other organizations. But overall, may not fit your requirements exactly. Since you can do the configuration on your own, there is generally no additional fee that you need to pay.

Customizable software, on the other hand, requires bespoke programming, generally done by the software company’s technical team or by a partner. With customized software, you get software that fits your requirements exactly. But because you are getting it specifically developed for you, the software itself does not evolve with usage from multiple companies. Whenever you need changes, those changes need to be specifically made for you and therefore will be both time-consuming and expensive.

The best example of configuration vs. customization is that of clothes. You

Configuring a shirt
Configuring a shirt

could get a shirt custom stitched to your exact size OR you could buy a shirt at a store. The custom stitched shirt is the equivalent of customized software, whereas buying a ready-to-wear shirt in a store is the equivalent of configured software. You can “configure” the shirt in the store by choosing your specific collar size, sleeve length from the variations available in the store. The custom shirt is specifically tailored for each of your lengths and sizes, but takes longer to make and may not have all the bells and whistles that come with the factory-made shirt. In software terms, we would say that the “configured” shirt has all the best practices from the industry.

Coming back to software, configurable software allows for users to re-arrange key elements of the software to suit their own business requirements, without programming changes. While customized software that works exactly to your specifications is alluring, the overall cost and time involved is generally prohibitive.

Like with most things, the 80-20 rule holds true for software implementations too. Check to see if out-of-the-box solution fits 80% of your requirements. If it does, you should be able to get the remaining 20% of the functionality through configurations, eliminating customization completely.

This post is the first in a 3-part series on software configuration. Next week, we’ll talk about how configuration makes Salesforce so powerful that it has become the platform of choice for many different implementations. The following week, as an example, we’ll look at how configuration works with dftly Time Tracker.

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