How Much ERP Customization Is Too Much?

PostedOn: 2016-10-07 12:53:20

When it comes to tweaking the source code of your business’ ERP software, you’ll no doubt hear a lot on the ‘no customizations’ side of the field. There is much to recommend a standard, no-frills approach to implementation. For one, you’ll save your business a major amount of money and what is likely a major amount of time when it comes to the actual process of working with the code of the software and the thorough testing of those changes. That’s not to mention that often time’s customizations that are too multifaceted or specific will make the software frustratingly slow or complicated to use, prompting employee abandonment and the rapid decline of your ERP’s value. To that end, there are several vendor options that come out of the box extremely resistant to client customization, preferring the plug-and-play approach when it comes to their software. Those systems would not be a good idea to try and wrangle into your business processes if they don’t already align with your needs. 

However, that shouldn’t unavoidably dissuade you entirely from ERP customization. In fact, some minor tweaking of your system is even recommended, especially if it improves user experience, adds on necessary functionality that your business may require or prepares your company for intended future growth. While many companies may shy away from the extra work required for ERP customization, it can often be essential when even the best-fit enterprise software doesn’t have all the capabilities your business will need to complete day-to-day tasks.

It may be hard to say no to ERP customization when it seems like it will make the software align perfectly with your current business processes, but most of the time it’s better to configure your processes to the software. So, how much ERP customization is too much? Usually, it’s probably over-the-top unless it helps move ahead your system in the following areas:

Employee Usability

One of the most critical components of ERP success is undeniably user adoption. After all, your end users will be the ones populating the software with the data it needs to run properly.  Without data entry, that ERP is just a fancy, yet empty, piece of code. The empty software will be of no use to your company, so it wouldn’t be wise to leave your ERP as is if it won’t be amenable to your everyday end-users, no matter what subdivision they’re in. If your team has a very specific way of carrying out a process now, and that method would not be supported in the new system, you should definitely consider adding that function. If some ERP customization means higher employee adoption, then a business should go for it. However, changing the source code to fit complex processes can often actually make it more difficult for users to complete their day-to-day tasks. If it’s something that most employees will need, then go for it. If it’s a singular department asking for a highly involved change that will require a lot of manipulation, consider sitting down with that department, prioritizing processes and then figuring out if there’s a more efficient way to complete that task that the ERP will support.

Therefore, when developing and testing your customizations, work closely with colleagues who will be interacting with the software the most. Get their feedback, hear their concerns and ensure that the final ERP product reflects those comments. After all, the more involved the end-user feels in the achievement process, the more open they will be to adopting it comes go-live.

Adding On Functionality      

While it’s not recommended to utilize ERP customization to alter fundamental aspects of an ERP system, you also shouldn’t be limiting your operations or squeezing them into an ill-fitting box. If you have a process or workflow that is absolutely central to your business, then by all means that workflow should be coded into your software. This could include certain packaging functions on your shop floor, lean training functions, or a unique configuration or common customization for your products. If it needs to be there, and you can’t find a better software option that will provide somewhere to stay the need, then modify to it. Some minor customization won’t stifle your project, but if you are seemingly going overboard and spending too much time knee-deep in code, it might be time to think about whether the software you selected really was the right fit for your business.

Adjusting to Future Needs

As always, ERP software is not static and it is not a short-term project by any means. Most companies expect their ERP software to last in some form for years, and perhaps even decades, to come. It only makes sense then, that you contemplate any future goals the business has when thinking about ERP customization. For example, some ERP customization may be necessary to accommodate for future integration projects with other systems like CRM or Marketing Automation. You also need to take into account any planned future growth. Do you want to expand regions or even countries in the future, requiring a sophisticated currency and time zone exchange system, or implement a remote team that will need to be able to use the system while off site? You will need the appropriate features and they may not be offered in every model. While these kinds of consideration should begin even before selection of your ERP vendor, they may also figure into your decision-making post go-live. However, if you find a system that fits well with your business aside from a few tweaks or features that would be needed in the future, ERP customization can be your best option.

You Have the Resources

It should go without saying, but if you don’t have an in-house IT team or the budget and ability to hire an outside consulting partner, ERP customization will not be a smart move. Depending on the ERP software platform and its receptiveness to new code (or the ease with which you can access it), customization can go from a relative headache to all-out nightmare. That means, if you’re set on customization, you should ensure that’s taken into consideration in the software selection processes, as you’ll want the software that will be most flexible when it comes to progress. Secondly, make sure you will have the ability to actually complete the project, whether by having a dev expert on your project team, or by looking for outside help.

If you don’t have an ERP development expert on your team, but have still determined that your company will need certain unique features in your ERP, an outside consultant will usually be your best bet. They have teams of consultants and developers that have honed their skills in ERP implementation and customization, and can craft a system that works both for your business and your end-users. Make sure they will be able to fully understand your business processes, your unique needs and the software you plan to work with through an initial interview and demo process and work closely with any partner and test each stage of customizations thoroughly so that you can come out on the other side of ERP customization successful and not just with a jumble of code!

Wrap Up

Yes, most of the time it is advisable to try to configure your business processes to the functionality of new ERP software rather than tailor the code of your ERP the other way around. After all, the software has usually been built the way it is for very good reasons. However, sometimes the idea of forgoing ERP customization completely just won’t be feasible for your business and what you’re heavy with child that new software to be able to do.

What’s more, it’s becoming more common for businesses to spring for ERP customization after the go-live date, and that’s positively an option if it doesn’t feel like the right decision during the initial implementation process. The idea is to install out-of-the-box and then promote and recode as necessary is attractive more accepted within the industry, and is not a bad idea if you don’t currently have the resources for customization but will amass them in the future. Either way, it’s impossible to go solidly either way in the ERP customization debate, and your business’ decision must lie solely on your unique processes, needs and workers. Just as no one company can, or should, look like another, no two ERP implementations will look alike. Your level of customization should remain minimal, but also be deep enough to accommodate all of your business needs.