Software customisation - a blessing or a curse?
ERP software systems in the past were "clunky" and if they didn't do what you needed them to do, then you would need to call up the software company and ask them to quote for some development work to be done.
Customisation or Coding may have been required to do what may appear like simple things such as adding a drop-down field or changing a label on a field. Larger more complex projects could involve some serious re-structuring and re-engineering to provide the type of customised functionality required.
The problem with this type of approach is that your business is then set to operate on a particular path where the software has been tweaked or engineered to do something in a particular way. Does it open the doors for new ways of thinking or changing your business model to align with current industry trends or demands? No, probably not without another big effort in re-engineering the system again. And what if you need to upgrade at some point, what kind of headaches will this cause? I have seen many situations where companies get "stuck" in a previous decade as far as their systems are concerned, largely due to the fact that changing is such as big job and so they choose to muddle through with old ways rather than embrace the change. What they may not realise is that by staying in a previous decade, their competitors are literally flying by them.
On the other hand, more modern ERP systems, particularly cloud-based systems are "enablers" of change and customisation can be the very thing that enables you set yourself apart from your competitors, helping you to scale and helping to drive internal efficiencies. But the difference between customisation today and in the past is that often the tools to enable you to customise can be used by "non-techies". Add your own fields, drop-downs, tabs, customise your own role and menu - these are things that end-users can do themselves (with the right permissions of course!). Maybe you could do with some scripting to give you something more advanced (with technical skills), but either way adapting the software is something that doesn't require massive re-structuring and can be done in a fast, efficient and agile way. Often, these type of customisations won't impact on your ability to upgrade - another big plus. You should also remember that today's modern ERP systems can be quite literally jaw-dropping in what they can do "out of box" versus systems even from just 5 years ago. So, the customisation you require may only be a minor "tweak" here and there. Having an entire custom-built application in today's modern world is not really the way to go, although this was a very common practice 15-20 years ago.
Let's face it, no two businesses are alike and even the most similar businesses from the outside will do things very differently on the inside - that's what sets one business apart. ERP systems are no longer big calculators that sit in a finance office. They are the life blood of companies, the arteries that keep the blood pumping from start-ups through to large corporates. How flexible a system is and how it can help you achieve your goals smarter and faster may be the difference between a successful business and one that just "muddles through".
This is a great report from Mint Jutras that examines this very topic in more depth. If you are a CEO, CFO or CIO wondering how you could gain competitive advantages using modern technology, then this is a must-read article.