Busting the "Off the Shelf" Myth
Team PolyrificJuly 09, 20187 min read
Despite the ever-increasing pace of advancements in the software world, there are still no out-of-the-box solutions that work perfectly for every enterprise. If you think about it, this is actually a good thing because if your enterprise operates in exactly the same manner as your competition, then there is nothing to competitively separate you from them and that is one of many reasons that we aren't fans of one-size-fits-all solutions that are critical to your core business operations.
If you have lived through or are in the midst of rolling out a big-name software package, we'll wager that it has caused you your fair share of heartburn. Here are ten reasons why your off-the-shelf implementation isn't going so well:
1. You are paying for features you don't need and won't use
Take a look at any off-the-shelf software solution and you are likely to find myriad features that have no relevance to your business. This makes sense because the software in question was undoubtedly built to "work" for the widest possible market segment and this means the inclusion of features that may make sense for others but not for you. The problem is, your license fee is covering the cost of those features you will never use. A pervasive example of this is the reporting features that get bundled with most off-the-shelf ERPs & CRMs. It's likely that most of those reports aren't being used at your enterprise.
2. Hidden costs
Off-the-shelf rollouts (especially ERP and CRM) are never as easy or fast as the well-funded salespeople told you they'd be. Many ERP rollouts take between 6-12 months which is time that you are paying consultants to make this "out-of-the-box" solution do what you paid a license fee to have it do. Think of the irony there for a moment--shouldn't an "out-of-the-box" solution just work right out of the box?
Apart from the high cost of implementation, there is also the cost of penetration/security testing, upgrade charges, the cost of extension packages that make the solution behave in a way that better works for your business, recurring annual licenses, and the cost to train your staff to use the solution that may not operate in a manner they are used to.
3. The software doesn't fit the business
No off-the-shelf solution will perfectly match the way your organization does business. At best, it can only come close. This means that your stakeholders are going to have to shape their business practices around the way that the software operates.
A dangerous aspect of off-the-shelf solutions is the temptation to underinvest in requirements gathering and business analysis because you figure that the "off-the-shelf" software you just paid a mint for will cover their needs. This creates resentment among your stakeholders who feel they are not being heard and it stymies good ideas that they may have brought to the table for boosting productivity, innovation, and profits.
4. "Configuration" means customization
Think that the "off-the-shelf" approach will mean that you aren't doing any customization, think again. In the COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) world the word "configuration" might as well be "customization" and it will cost you just as much or more than a solid custom solution would have in the first place.
5. Lack of free and fast support
There are going to be times that you encounter an edge case bug in your software or you simply have made a mistake such as deleting data that you need to retrieve. In the "off-the-shelf" world you will either have to pay for fast tier 3 support or you will have to wait--sometimes for weeks--for the vendor to resolve your problem. Also, since the software's source code is closed to your team, you are not empowered to have your in-house engineering staff tackle the problem for you meaning that their hands are tied even though they may have been able to resolve the issue quickly.
6. No control over the product roadmap
Have a great idea for a feature that would be hugely valuable in your off-the-shelf software package? The vendor might be willing to hear about it and, if so might be willing to implement it *if* they think it is in line with their wider market sector. Even if they do decide to move forward with developing the feature it could be months or even years before you see it.
7. No competitive separation
Think of the industry in which you and your competitors work as a gene pool. When you are all using the same big-name off-the-shelf products, there is a great likelihood that you are all being channeled into doing business in the exact same way. You can probably see where I am going with the gene pool analogy: lack of diversity in the way you and your competitors do business means lack of evolution and competitive separation.
Competitive separation is further limited through the limits that off-the-shelf solutions place on innovation. Very few in your organization are going to come forward with innovative ideas for bettering your business if they know they would be impossible to implement within the context of your off-the-shelf solution. What would be the point?
8. Lack of usability leads to lack of adoption
Can you imagine foisting an out-of-the-box ERP interface on a field mechanic who has to log his or her equipment inspections? It happens every day though--gloved or greasy hands having to manipulate a stylus to fill out forms better displayed on a desktop in a cubicle. Swearing ensues and sometimes tablets grow wings. Your field personnel is good at what they do and they do not want to spend too much time living in your world. A much better solution for them might have been a custom solution offering a voice interface that they can run on their smartphone. Both Google and Microsoft offer APIs that make this an easy feature to incorporate into custom applications but you don't have that ability with your off-the-shelf solution.
9. Lack of integration with existing software and data
There are off-the-shelf products that now ship with integration capabilities, often for other big-name off-the-shelf products, but many still offer no such integration and none of them have a way to interface with your enterprise's native data sources. For that to work, you need yet another custom engineering effort, often in the form of "glue ware" built to tie your new off-the-shelf product to your existing data stores.
There is an alternative--new off-the-shelf "integration platforms" that help you tie all of your packages together but require high amounts of implementation time and consulting. At some point, it becomes easier to just build a more focused custom application in the first place.
10. High total cost of ownership (TCO)
One thing that will certainly put a sour taste in your mouth is the increasing level of cost of your application over time. Thought you were done spending money when you wrote the initial licensing check? Not even close. Before you have used your expensive off-the-shelf product for a few years you will likely have spent money on annual licensing fees, upgrades, security testing, marketplace extensions, support, and so on. You also might have to allocate funds for internal staff to monitor and maintain the off-the-shelf product so that you can be sure it stays up-to-date and compliant. Be sure to create a five-year total cost of ownership projection when considering off-the-shelf software solutions.
As you can probably tell, we aren't big fans of "off-the-shelf" solutions at Polyrific because in the best case we think they are agents of averageness and in the worst case, we think they negatively impact the clients who we care about. It's not to say that all off-the-shelf solutions are bad of course, but you do need to carefully consider your decision before going in that direction. Don't be afraid to ask around--other folks you know might have had a run-in with the software you are considering and can give you the real story. We don't know too many people who are happy with their off-the-shelf purchase decisions but we know of plenty who are delighted with our custom solutions!
If you are interested in developing a custom application to better your enterprise, please feel free to contact us for help. We are experts in developing world-class custom enterprise solutions.
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