Customisation: software's dirty word
27/06/2012 - Verde Group's Vlad Kozak says businesses shouldn't fear trying to get what they need.
In the world of business systems there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. But when seeking a business system that best fits their requirements, it's the mid-sized companies that start to get the willies at the mention of the "C" word: customisation.
They're nervous at the thought of spending more money and running the risk of getting a poor result, whereas large-scale enterprises have the budgets to get just about anything they want.
Coupled with that are natural fears of upgrading and obsolescence problems, where the developer who did the work moves on or goes out of business, leaving the customer stranded.
"C" also stands for Compromise
"Is any product off the shelf going to meet 100 per cent of requirements? Probably not," Vlad Kozak, managing director of Greentree Partner Verde Group, said.
"It's about how much of a fit there is to what people want. We've customised Greentree for our clients over the years, so they can get the best of both worlds."
Many issues can be addressed through configuration – using features, variables and options available within the core software to meet the customer's needs.
Customisation can mean anything from modifying the software code to create new or change existing functionality, to developing a separate system that runs alongside the core software.
Mid-size businesses usually end up seeking a compromise solution – getting as much as they can from configuration, then spending what they can afford on customisation, and devising new processes or workarounds to deal with anything else.
A 2008 survey of software vendors, conducted by American ERP consultancy Panorama, revealed that 48 per cent of mid-sized businesses seek some moderate customisation, and nearly 24 per cent want some heavy-duty changes.
Greentree is a world leader when it comes to software flexibility, for several reasons: its framework allows customisations to be embedded in the core software, rather than running in parallel (making customisations cheaper and avoiding the problem with upgrades); Greentree partners, like Verde Group, have years of experience in customisations; and Greentree's partner community ensures ongoing support, even if the relationship with the original customisation partner changes.
Two of Verde Group's customers came up with some requirements that illustrate how Greentree's backbone, with very specific customisations, can deliver a near-perfect result.
A global first
GS1 is the NZ arm of a global non-profit organisation dedicated to developing and implementing global standards and solutions improving the efficiency and visibility of supply and demand chains. Its highest-profile role is in the administration of the product barcodes that appear on most things you buy.
It was looking to upgrade its Financial and CRM systems, but the special services it provides to its members required some special functions.
These services include barcode accreditation and verification, and online cataloguing and registration.
GS1 NZ now boasts a completely web-based interface with real-time transactions. In a matter of minutes, new members can sign up, get barcode numbers allocated, register their products in GS1's database, and pay for all their services.
"When we went live in 2008, it meant our business became almost completely real-time," enthuses GS1 NZ's chief executive, Peter Stevens.
"We also provided a whole lot of services that had never been done in the GS1 world before for our members, such as online barcode graphic generation."
Stevens says GS1 NZ can now provide a robust 24/7 service, and is able to handle increasing numbers of members and customers without having to employ more staff.
"To build what we wanted in the equivalent Microsoft framework (Dynamics, CRM & Sharepoint) would have been twice as expensive and would not have credibly delivered the integration we required," he says.
"We've made it more sophisticated, delivered more self-service and more automation, and it's all built in Greentree."
On the road again Much of HW Richardson Group's business involves trucking.
The 30-odd companies in the group manage a vast array of transport-related services, including bulk fuel delivery and concrete, as well as general contracting and quarrying.
They were already Greentree users, and asked Verde to enhance their system to encompass all aspects of the business, including integration with other systems.
HWR's bulk fuel distributor, Allied Petroleum, needed a special pricing module to take account of frequent price changes, as well as a fuel card system, and integration with in-truck paperless invoicing systems.
"Our data entry in the field is now much simpler and more efficient," says HWR's CIO, Daryl Johnstone.
"Whether it's a timesheet, a job sheet or a running sheet, it just gets entered at one point into Greentree."
The total integration achieved by Verde Group's customisations means better processing and decision-making.
"Our ability to get at information quickly and easily is just streets ahead of where it was," Johnstone says.
"It's all real-time actual live information that allows us ultimately to look after customers better."
A smart fit
As Stevens noted, customisations of other software platforms can be very expensive. The advantage with Greentree is that its modules are so adaptable, which generally means less work and lower costs.
"I don't know of any other product in the market that we'd be able to do what we're doing as easily and as economically as we can with Greentree," Vlad Kozak says.
"Rather than building an entirely separate module and then using clunky interfaces to integrate it, you can actually build screens and functions that sit within the screens of Greentree, rather than as a standalone.
"We know the product so well, we're able to integrate a customisation at such a level that anything we do just appears to be part of the product."
So really, there's no need to fear the C word; a Compromise between Configuration and Customisation can give you a Consummate Conclusion.
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