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Customize Software or Process

By Steve Jones,

Many of us work with software and often wish that we something was designed differently. I'm sure many of us feel the same way about our database schemas, which is usually even harder to change. In any case, we often want to mold software to fit our thought process. We're often asked to alter software to meet the expectations of our customers as well, trying to alter visuals or workflows to match some method of working that our customer desires. 

We often try to do this with COTS (Commercial off the shelf) software, notably ERP systems. SAP and Oracle applications, and similar software packages, have made many consultants rich and required millions (maybe billions) of dollars of investment by companies that look to ensure their logos, their workflow, the specific process is implemented in software. Even many of us that purchase some infrastructure software, or even get open source applications, may spend lots of resources on getting the software to fit our organization.

The thought that most people have had is that it's cheaper to make the software fit the system, or the people, than vice versa. However, is that the best way to proceed? Do we want to customize software to work in a way different from the way in which is was designed? Or should we learn to alter some of our processes to better fit with how the tools work? Do we think that we really have some special secret in our process that makes us more efficient? Or are we resistant to change?

For some software, like SAP, the system is designed to morph and fit an organization. Certainly when there are hundreds, or thousands of users, it might be worth the cost of customizing the software to fit the users. However when we have more specific software, such as that used to monitor infrastructure or deploy software or track features, with dozens of users, do we want to spend a lot of time changing the way things work? I sometimes wonder if we should instead focus on getting our people to learn a new way of working that flows with the software. After all, upgrades, patches, and other minor changes are less disruptive. 

I don't think there's just one answer here, and certainly there are valid reasons to spend time and money on changing a system. I just think it's worth some thought to be sure that changing software is a better decision that adapting our process to work with the application.

 
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