As you vet potential software solutions, you’ll evaluate features, functions, and pricing structures to help determine which product aligns best to your business goals. When it’s time to implement the new solution, you’ll have to make some decisions about configuration and customization options. Although they may appear to be similar concepts, they have two very different meanings. In this post, we’ll discuss the differences between configuration and customization, as well as the pros and cons of customizing.  

What is Configuration?

When you purchase a CRM solution (or other business software), you receive the fundamentals. The software is delivered to you out-of-the-box, pre-loaded with all the basic functionality the provider believes you will need; but that also means it’s generic.

To adapt the existing functions to your preferences, you’ll need to configure them. Configuration occurs during your software implementation process. Your consultant uses the tools and applications already included with the software to edit fields, values, and functionality so they suit what works best for your business. Configuring the software doesn’t require coding or programming, and it’s not affecting any major aspect of how your software operates. Because configuration options are a part of your software, they are usually easy to upgrade and alter than customizations.

Examples of Configuration

  • Setting security roles
  • Adding custom fields and objects
  • Building dashboards
  • Setting team roles
  • Building email templates
  • Installing a plugin
  • Making fields mandatory
  • Modifying system properties

What is Customization?

Businesses choose software based on the capabilities they need, but in many cases, it’s the functionality they want that’s still missing – and that’s where customization comes in. Customization enhances the software’s capabilities so it can offer a tailored user experience. Unlike configuration, customization requires coding, which results in fundamental changes to your baseline system. Developers must modify the program or write new code to get the software to do something it can’t currently do.

The ability to customize can be both a blessing and a curse. Customize too little and the changes won’t have the desired effect on usability. Customize too much and you risk complications with upgrades and integrations.

It is wise to discuss any desired customizations with your software consultant first. He/she will review your business processes and help you decide which customizations will ultimately be helpful, and which ones may hinder you more than they help you.

Examples of Customization

  • Custom dashboard widgets
  • Custom menus
  • Opportunity & product lines
  • Custom form layouts
  • Custom tables

To Customize or Not to Customize, that is the Question

In this section, we'll discuss the pros an cons of customization. But first, one last side note about configuration vs. customization. In rare instances, you may run into a situation where you can use EITHER configuration OR customization to perform an action.

For example, some CRM solutions allow you to add relationships between Modules using administrator functions, configuration options, or custom code. Customization may seem like the quicker option, as admins or developers can create many of fields by copying and pasting the custom code for each field and tweaking the settings. However, this is not the best practices approach. Because the customization will be hard coded into the solution, it makes it more difficult to take advantage of new features and functionality in the system.

Configuration works within the existing rules of the CRM solution, which makes it easier for the solution to automatically apply any new features/functionality. It's a complicated analogy, but hopefully you get the idea. This example also highlights why it's so important to discuss your goals with your software consultant. He/she can help you navigate these sorts of outlier situations.

So, back to customization considerations...

When considering customizations, it’s helpful to understand the benefits and risks. Here’s a quick snapshot:

Positives of Customization

  • Productivity Booster: Because the software is more closely aligned to your processes, it fits naturally into the way your teams work.
  • Competitive Advantage: Your unique solution has features that your competitor may not, which could give you a leg up.
  • Insightful Reporting: Customized reports or tables can reveal new perspectives on your data.

Pitfalls of Customization

  • High Upfront Costs: Customization adds to your initial software investment, especially if you’re performing many customizations.
  • Upgrade Concerns: Customized software can sometimes break or misbehave after a software update, which can mean potential downtime for your team.
  • Compatibility Concerns: When you’re ready to connect your solution to another software, you may find that your customizations are more difficult to carry over. Adding them to the integration will require custom coding, and there’s not always a place for that information to feed into the new system, which can complicate things further.

Add-Ons vs. Customization

Weighing the benefits and risks of customization is something you should do with your software consultant and your management team. If a customization is ill-advised due to complexity, cost, or some other inhibitor, is there anything else you can do?

Yes!

Add-on products are useful alternatives to customizations. They’re built to work specifically with your software provider’s platform and can add functionality to boost the experience without a lot of coding or added costs. Most software providers have a marketplace where 3rd parties can sell their compatible add-ons to modify everything from emailing functions, to reporting, to invoice creation. These purpose-built features give your software that little boost you want without overcomplicating the system with too many customizations. The downside with add-ons is that they may not fit your EXACT specifications or desires. You are limited to the capabilities the 3rd party provider created. However, add-ons are still a worthwhile consideration for companies looking to balance their customizations with some simpler enhancements. Your consultant can advise you on what’s available and help you add the new features to your system with little friction.

So, in conclusion, what did we learn here?

  1. New software purchases must be configured to adhere to your company’s preferences. Configuration uses the capabilities already in your system to set up security protocols, plugins, and other necessary features. It does not require coding.
  2. Customizations are optional, but often highly sought after for businesses that wish to build on the out-of-the-box features of their existing solution. While it can add to your initial investment, it also can also be extremely beneficial to your teams and how they work.
  3. Add-ons are 3rd party solutions that you can “tack on” to your existing software to enhance a function instead of doing a more in-depth customization. Add-ons are less expensive than customizations, but their capabilities are limited to the functions the 3rd party built into them.
  4. In rare instances, you may have an opportunity to choose between configuration and customization. For example, if you have the option to add a new module in your CRM using either configuration or coding. Discuss these scenarios with your software consultant so you can make a decision based on best practices.
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