It is often assumed that choosing package software over bespoke software is the right choice for most business scenarios. However, as with many things in life, it’s not quite as black and white as many package vendors would like you to believe.
In my 30+ years in the software industry I’ve seen many package software implementations go wrong. I’ve also seen many millions of pounds/euros/dollars wasted on trying to make a package fit a business’s needs.
In my experience organisations consistently underestimate the amount of work needed to implement a new software package. In particular they significantly underestimate the amount of customisation that is needed to make the package suitable for their business.
If the “fit” of the package is not greater than, say, 80% then excessive customisation of the package may be required to satisfy requirements, or significant changes in business processes may be required to accommodate the software constraints. Such package customisation or process change, almost always extremely complex in execution, is a major cause for large implementation failures.
In fact, many companies would have been better off choosing a custom solution as they would have spent no more and would have got a perfect fit.
The Cutter Consortium investigated this area in their report ‘Application Package Software: The Promise vs. Reality’ and there were some interesting findings:
- Of 78% that applied extensive or moderate changes to their packages, only 50% expected to apply this degree of change to their packages.
- Nearly half of all respondents (49%) said that the customisations exceeded what was anticipated and what was budgeted for the project
- The perception of senior management that packages can be dropped into an organization with little change is typically inaccurate
- 31% of respondents expended a great deal of effort integrating application packages with existing in-house applications, and another 46% spent some effort on existing systems integration
- 42% of respondents had a great deal of difficulty in integrating existing data into a package, while another 39% experienced some difficulty. This is an essential step with almost any package, and these findings indicate that data integration challenges are nontrivial
- Application packages are, according to this survey, only fully implemented 28% of the time. While this is not necessarily a sign of success or failure, executives should note that a package is unlikely to deliver or be deployed to the full breadth of capability that a given package provider may be suggesting.
Of course this doesn’t prove that choosing package software over custom software is the wrong thing to do. Many packages do get implemented successfully. I would be the last person to recommend that you implement a custom accounting system or HR system unless (highly unlikely) you had some really unique requirements.
The debate over package versus custom really begins with those systems where your requirements are specific to your business and where a package doesn’t easily cater for them in a standard implementation. In these cases the decision is less clear-cut.
In part 2 of this blog I will be looking at the 7 reasons why custom software just might be the right choice for your business.