Three Things to Consider When Entertaining Highly Customizable Software

City skyline and modern building with reflected bright sunlight

On my last project, I spent a significant amount of time helping my client implement a portfolio management tool that is renowned for its customizability—a feature that is in high demand. We’re finally at the tail end of the journey and it’s been an interesting one with some lessons learned. If your firm is considering new software, I encourage you to consider three elements before committing to a highly customizable solution.

  1. Know what you need. Spend the time up-front to understand exactly what functionality is “must have” versus “nice to have.” We tend to not know what we want and can be lured by sales demos and sophisticated visualizations. Don’t let your vendor complete your wish list. Before entertaining software vendors, build a well-thought-out list of minimum functionality that is specifically aligned to your business goals. After the sales demos, whatever other bells and whistles your business didn’t know it needed should go on the “nice to have” list.
  2. Shorten your time to market. If your “must have” list is long and the functionality you’re seeking isn’t out-of-the-box, your time to market may be lengthy. The longer the time to market, the more likely your needs will evolve before you’ve had a chance to gain value from the system. Ask your vendor or project team to help you sequence the work in a way that gets you incremental benefit as early as possible and builds along the way. The last thing you want is to wait years for a final product only to find out that what you wanted three years ago no longer suits your needs.

  3. Don’t skimp on the support model. This is the most critical factor to consider. When the system is up and running and all the temporary resources that helped customize your highly sophisticated solution have gone, what will it take to keep it going? Who has the knowledge to navigate your laundry list of customizations? What are the implications when you launch new products? You’ve built the equivalent of a spaceship and now you need a pilot to navigate it. Make sure you’ve considered how many resources you’ll need, and at what skill level, to keep your ship operable. This tends to be the most overlooked component of a cost-benefit analysis.

When considering a software solution that claims to be highly customizable, take some precautionary measures. Before entertaining vendors, prepare by knowing exactly what capabilities your firm needs to achieve its goals. Ask your vendor if it can stage work to shorten the time it takes to begin using the product. Finally, project what ongoing resources you’ll need to support the software. Highly customizable software typically requires a more sophisticated resource. These considerations can help generate a more accurate cost benefit in the end.