Out Of The Box

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My first meeting with the client is usually focused on the topic of “out of the box”.  “Out of the Box” typically means that the functionality will work without any customization and/or minimal configuration.  A good example can be a Profit and Loss report.  There may be an “out of the box” report that is available as soon as you install and log into your ERP system.  Inevitably, the next question a client asks is “Can you modify this?”

Think about the software developer’s perspective.  You are building a software system that will be used by a wide variety of users.  Some of them will be extremely technical, some will try never to use a computer.  Some of your users will operate production facilities, some will wholesale consumer products, and some clients will account for professional services.  If you’re going to build a system that can cater to this wide variety of clients, you cannot build a pre-configured “out of the box” system.

I realize that for industry focused solutions, this may not apply to the same extent.  But even among businesses operating within the same vertical, each business has different priorities when it comes to reporting and workflow.  It is never safe to assume that you know what that business needs without asking the question.

So how does the developer accommodate such a wide variety of client tastes and preferences?  The only logical conclusion is to offer the client a highly flexible set of tools to shorten the implementation and cost of building a custom fit solution.  Think one size fits them all.  While one size fits them all is almost never the best solution, it allows you to cater to a much wider audience than if you make a single size.  Just imagine if you need the one size that doesn’t exist…

So why do we need to put up with this?  Why not just get a custom fit solution each time.  Probably for the same reason that Virgin Airlines doesn’t manufacture airplanes.  Of course, you could build your own system, but that will take vast resources (expertise, time, money).  And once you’ve built your customized system, you will have to maintain your system.  It is not uncommon for custom built systems to come along with their own departments of employees devoted to adding functionality, fixing bugs, and building reports.  This can take a $100,000 project into the $1,000,000 range very quickly.

If you don’t have oodles of money to invest into your system, the best approach is to leverage the best parts of your ERP software and ditch the rest.  The software is your ERP toolkit, not your ERP solution.  Your ERP solution will likely be different from anyone else’s.  Leverage the strengths of your ERP toolkit to get you closer to your ERP solution and you will quickly forget the term “out of the box”.

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