How to stop fearing the word “custom” when it comes to digital products
When making a technology investment, sometimes businesses look for the most cost-efficient option thinking it’s the safest option, which usually means out-of-the-box solutions that can serve a broad function. The problem with going that route is that it’s virtually impossible to meet all of your technical requirements without some kind of optimization – turning what should have been an easy product into something custom anyway.
In the end, the right digital product is the one that best meets a customer’s needs. Sometimes that might be an off-the-shelf solution that checks all of the boxes, but ultimately when we focus on the experiences that consumers expect today, those products are not generic. They solve a direct pain point and, in a way, make the users feel understood.
So let’s think about the misconceptions of custom and out-of-the-box digital products and how to provide the best experience for users.
Too often, we hear about clients who got on board with packaged software where the price tag sounded great, but once implementation gets going, it’s far from a great match. The challenge with an out-of-the-box product is that it has to solve a need and fit into a business process across multiple companies at once, so the use cases are often generalized to address very broad needs. Even within the same industry, however, companies vary widely and can have requirements specific to their business. Because of that, the vendor can layer some level of “configuration” to help to support those requirements for an additional cost.
To fit the off-the-shelf product, you need to adapt your business or your customer’s behaviors to the way the software works and its limitations when it should be the other way around. If you had to pay extra or short your customers on necessary features, it needs to be custom anyway.
Packaged software has multiple capabilities, but you really only need one or two of them, or the ones you need are not yet available. Let’s say they release something and breaks the application, but you weren’t using it. Then the vendor creates a customized version of their own software. So now you are paying for, upgrading, and maintaining functions that don’t affect your business.
You can wait on the vendor’s product roadmap to make the enhancements to the core product, but you’re not in control of the prioritization and all other companies using their product get “your” enhancement. OR you can change your business and embark on complex change management processes that aren’t accounted for in your IT implementation budget.
Aside from the price, customers tend to shy away from the term “custom” because they think it implies more complexity to maintain when patches or new features were released to the standard version.
Complex integration layers are built between the software and your existing systems to avoid changes to the packaged software. So not only are you building custom software, you are now building customer software tied to a specific vendor’s product. It’s similar to investing. If you ever decide to cut ties with that vendor, you’re also throwing away your integration software.