When designing a system, implementing customizations to a digital solution can help a business efficiently solve today’s problems. However, this becomes a complex issue when multiple business lines need to use the system. With this in mind, how does an enterprise critically approach system customization when there is a need to balance accessibility for other business lines while creating new functionalities to optimize certain processes? Will new customizations disturb existing business areas or enhance their productivity? Careful consideration is needed to ensure your system is scalable and can enable enterprise expansion.

To ensure your company can adapt to continuous growth, it is important to carefully weigh the benefits of overly customizing an existing digital solution and evaluate if it is the right approach for your present and future state. Consider the following scenario: your company’s highly customized system needs to be upgraded as the vendor will no longer support the previous version. Over your current system’s life cycle, your enterprise has grown, and new business lines have been onboarded and need to be aligned to the upgraded solution. Your system has been customized only to accommodate specific business scenarios and workflows, making it inaccessible for new lines of business. This prevents some teams from using the system optimally by necessitating manual workarounds, creating unnecessary reliance on custom code, and increasing the complexity of reaching process alignment.

This is a prime example of where an enterprise may have over-engineered its current system and faced the added challenge of aligning to its future vision while keeping customizations that helped one business line exclusively. Time, cost, system compatibility, compliance and other setbacks are critical factors experienced when systems are highly customized.

Five ways system customization can affect your company

  1. Business agility - For a growing company, customizing a software solution to help a business unit achieve its goals may make it unusable for future business units that must adapt to the customized system. In consensus-driven organizations, a subsequent alignment of processes and systems for two or more business units with different processes to a single system could present a challenging and contentious process. This could lead to lost time and potentially unnecessary upgrades.
  2. System defects - New customizations to existing software by non-vendor developers can affect system stability and manifest as slowdowns or defects. Vendors push out new functionality created by their developers with deep knowledge of their systems and tested thoroughly to ensure compliance.
  3. Integration challenges - Enterprises rely on a diverse IT ecosystem to support their business processes. Vendors understand this and design systems to synergize with partners to deliver better value. Introducing custom code to a system could create new challenges and incur unnecessary costs for any integration. It must be evaluated carefully to ensure it does not affect anything between the two systems.
  4. Loss of vendor support - Customized modules make it difficult to receive vendor support as it is beyond the original scope of the software solution. When the vendor offers free upgrades, your enterprise may not be able to take advantage of this due to compatibility issues with custom code. This will lead to more dependency on non-vendor developers and potentially higher maintenance costs.
  5. Higher validation efforts to mitigate audit risks - Vendors often offer pre-validated solutions for their out-of-the-box software. New or existing modules that are customized will require rigorous testing and documentation to ensure the solution meets business requirements and is compliant with regulations.

Structured decision making: A conscientious approach to customization

It is important to remember that while customizations can create operational risks for your company, they can also create new possibilities for optimization when approached with the proper mindset. Below are some behaviors that can be adopted so that customizations are approached and implemented in a thoughtful, future-minded manner:

Customizations as a last resort - Before customizing existing solutions, it is important to explore all options. To help determine if customization is the right approach to solve your business problem, consider the following:

  • Are there other software solutions or applications in your landscape that can be integrated and efficiently perform the requested functionality?
  • Will a future release include the functionality you are looking for?
  • Can a process change address the inefficiency being resolved through customization?

Streamlined communication with end-users - End-users interact directly with business processes and the solution to support them. They should be empowered to propose innovative ideas and communicate to an established point of contact, such as the business analyst.

The business analyst should communicate end-user feedback with developers to understand if requests are possible within the context of the solution. Sometimes, a business analyst should reject a customization approach if alternative solutions are more feasible (i.e., process changes, other software solutions that can be integrated, etc.)

Design matrixes and documentation - A clear structure must be established to decide how customizations are digested, prioritized, and developed to ensure decisions are made consistently. One way to accomplish this is using a decision matrix (i.e., level of effort vs. value delivered). Identified decision-makers must collaborate with business analysts to gather context and make decisions accordingly.

Why CGI?

System customization is a powerful tool that can deliver significant value to your enterprise. However, it is important to account for scalability and system stability. Ensuring that you have the right mindset and analyzing your options within the appropriate context (i.e., changing process flows, implementing more appropriate system solutions, business line expansion or global etc.) is crucial to mitigate the inherent risks of over-customization.

From our experience working with companies that have undergone mergers and acquisitions, we understand that establishing a new way of working from a highly customized system can be challenging. We can help navigate these challenges by uncovering opportunities for alignment so that all business areas can benefit from the system in its future state. In addition, we have experience coaching companies to create a meaningful decision structure that allows customization ideas to be collected, assessed, and prioritized so that your company can pursue customizations that reduce cost and improve efficiency.

Connect with a CGI expert to learn more.