When searching for the right platform, it can seem as if the platform choices are endless. But despite the treasure trove of options out there, in reality there are two options when you invest in a new platform – to build or to buy. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Sadly not. All too often we’re seeing re-platforms that are the direct result of over-customisation.
A little customisation is fine, but too much customisation means you enter the worst of both worlds: you buy your platform, then turn it into a build situation. Not only is this very expensive, too much customisation actually precludes you from getting the maximum ROI from your platform, as you are unable to take advantage of the built-in new innovations.
Ultimately, over-customisation can mean you pay twice to get less. Increasingly, replatforming projects are started as a result of over-customisation: more often than not, you find that it’s as cost-effective to simply buy a new platform with all the functionality built in, even though you’re not necessarily unhappy with your current platform – if only you’d just let it well enough alone!
Follow the Rules
Don’t misunderstand me: just as you need to know the rules to break them, some customisation is fine. The key is to keep your core platform untouched. There is also a difference between those customisations that the platform allows to be done easily, and over-stretching the platform.
Every time you decide to change your platform, force yourself to justify why you have to deviate or customise – if you are having to do this excessively, is this the right platform for you? A useful rule of thumb is to have a threshold in mind, and to not exceed it. This will help you to evaluate the amount and cost of customisation vs your overall programme.
Alison Conway, former VP, Client and Omnichannel at Belstaff, suggested in our Replatforming magazine that the threshold should be no more than 25%. It is good to have a KPI for this but the exact figure should be balanced on the sector, type of business you have and unique customer engagement plans you have.
Handily, best practices are now supplied with platforms. I know no-one likes to be restricted, but if you stick to this, it really does make your life easier. Following the guidance from the software provider around customisation means that when things change in the software in the future, you won’t have to do a bunch of re-work. It will highlight the areas that are good to modify and change, as well as other areas stay away from.
A recent example springs to mind: A few years ago, responsive design came out. Naturally, customers wanted to upgrade to get this. They soon discovered that they had previously heavily modified their customer journey and checkout flow. So in order to get responsive design, they had to go back and re-do all that. So what should have been a quick and easy improvement that a platform upgrade should easily provide instead turned into something time-consuming and expensive.
Take-away: Where possible, alter your business to suit the platform, rather than changing the platform around your business processes. This will allow you to take advantage of upcoming features and innovation that the platform will build in.
Who is in charge?
If the thought of more work and money hasn’t dissuaded you, let me quickly run through some of the other potential pitfalls of over-customisation. Let’s assume you’ve made changes that fall outside of your core platform; who owns the responsibility for changing or solving any future problems? For instance, on May 18th this year, the Data Protection Act will change. Your vendor is aware of this, and has it sorted. But you’ve now made internal changes, so who is in charge of the indemnity or IP issues?
Equally, you might ask your SI to do extensive customisation, and they happily create a piece of unique functionality for your business. One slight problem; only they know how to use it, which means that you’re locked in to them. Once your SI introduces a new piece of software to your existing platform, you have to ensure that they’ve done the due diligence on the software or tool. For example – you want a brand new form. Instead of using the standard form your SI finds a third party or open source framework. The same issues spring up; who has vetted licensing agreement? Are you happy to have a new functionality that isn’t provided by your core framework, and which will be problematic in future?
To sum up
Considering replatforming? The best platforms offer rich feature functionality and extensions so that you can get the customisation you want whilst avoiding the hassle and expense of re-work. That’s why our chosen platforms are SAP Hybris Commerce Cloud and Salesforce Commerce Cloud. They support a level of extension but don’t recommend full blown customisation, instead providing a modular framework which allows you to customise your platform in an effective and structured way – which means that your re-platform can strike the perfect customisation balance.