When making changes to your CRM, should you use choose configuration, customisation or add-ons?
Which is best for your CRM project?, or even just this requirement, since you could easily each of them in different places of the implementation.
And which do you already have?
True ‘vanilla CRM’ implementations are very rare. Almost everyone makes some changes. Custom fields, values in a drop-down list, layout of a form or so on. But have you gone beyond these minor CRM configuration examples to more extreme customisation? And what’s the effect if you do?
There are three ways you can modify your CRM to achieve all the non-standard functionality that you require.
There is a place for all of them in most projects. The key is to use the correct solution for each requirement. I believe that for any business requirement there will be at least three, and sometimes many more, ways of solving it. Of these some will be good and others less good. Some may be downright awful, and perhaps not now, but later on. The experience that someone who has worked on a number of projects brings, is the ability to differentiate between the good and the awful - and rather than just 'do as they are told', explain the pros and cons of each of the alternatives.
Customisation and configuration are often seen as synonymous. Even the official Microsoft Customisation and Configuration courses do not distinguish between these clearly. I prefer to use these words differently. This is because I have seen first-hand the problems caused when incorrect words are used and concepts are confused.
Configuration, to me, covers changes to the system that do not require code. An experienced and trained business person can often implement these using internal tools. Most Business Analysts and many other non-technical people can learn the skills required. This is great for ongoing maintenance of your CRM implementation. However it may not be the best option when you first deploy or if major change is needed.
Configuration tends to be relatively quick and cheap. It is usually easier to maintain than other ways of modifying your CRM. With every new release of CRM, more and more is possible with configuration alone.
To use a car analogy, configuration is like topping up the oil or replacing the tyres. It’s inexpensive, easy to do, and can make a big difference. But if you want to do if yourself, you need to know how. If you don’t, engage an expert. They can either do the work or teach you how to do it!
Technically, configuration is usually pretty simple. What’s more difficult is translating the business requirement into the most suitable technical solution. Imagine a strange noise in your car engine which you want fixed. There are many possible causes for ‘funny noises’, but which is most likely to be right? The car owner (business person) may not know - it is not their area of skill. Your garage mechanic (CRM consultant), on the other hand, is experienced. He can start with the most likely options and solve the problem promptly.
Customisation is a step beyond configuration. It generally requires code and usually external tools. I call it "performing magic by writing gibberish". You need an experienced I.T. person to customise CRM. The need to develop and test code means customisation generally takes longer and costs more than configuration.
Picking up on the car analogy, customising your CRM is like adding cruise control, or having a complete respray. It’s not something most drivers can, or should, do themselves. Yet it can be extremely beneficial. Inappropriate customisation might be using household emulsion to respray a car, or hand-making new wiper blades rather than buying a set.
I’ll make two more points about customising CRM.
For these reasons, be doubly sure you need customisation before you start. All too often people who opt to customise are unaware of standard functionality or CRM configuration options which could deliver the same result. In my experience, even so-called CRM experts fall into this trap.
Let’s return to the car analogy. Imagine you live in a snowy region. You want tyres with extra traction to help you stay on the road. You could get some hand-made to your specification. Or you could buy snow tyres – specially designed to reduce skidding. In most cases the second option is preferable. It’s unlikely that your design has any features which make it better than the snow tyres already on the market.
Both configuration and customisation have their place in a CRM solution. But the best solution, for now and for the future, comes from checking every business requirement against out-of-the-box functionality, then against configuration options. Only use customisation when these two cannot deliver what you need.
Over the years Opsis have been brought in to work with many over-customised CRM solutions. Invariably, ongoing maintenance is harder. It’s usually more expensive too. Worst of all, the client usually decides to return to the out of the box solution.
Add-ons are pieces of functionality that can be added to the standard functionality. Think of an add-on as similar to a roof rack or a child seat. It’s extremely useful if you need that functionality, but not an integral part of the car. Like these items, add-ons can usually be removed later, if no longer required.
Add-ons are usually significantly cheaper than getting the equivalent functionality built specifically for you. Nevertheless, when purchasing an add-on, make sure it does in fact meet your needs. Many add-ons started life as bespoke customisation for a particular client. They have since been made more widely available. If they meet your requirements, they can be a very good investment. But if they don’t quite match up, you may find that ‘a miss is as good as a mile´. Add-ons may even cause more harm than good.
One challenge with add-ons is ensuring compatibility. It’s not obvious at first glance. After all, every add-on works with the core product, which remains the same. The problem is that there is no way to test a specific add-on in conjunction with all other possible add-ons. So you can find yourself in a situation where two (or more) add-ons each work separately, but together they fail. Mediating between different vendors to untangle the mess can cost more than the original add-ons. Nor is there any guarantee you will achieve compatibility. You may end up with nothing. Less than nothing, once you count the money and time spent.
There’s one common challenge when implementing mission-critical applications such as CRM. Organisations know (or think they know) what they need, but they don’t have the expertise to implement it well. So they turn to so-called experts. However, some of the ‘experts’ know little more than their clients. Others are more interested in making money than assisting their clients.
Let’s take the car analogy to a ridiculous extreme. You need to respray your car. The body shop shows you a sample of paint in a colour you like. You assume it’s car paint, so you don’t confirm that point. So who is responsible when the paint peels? You approved the paint sample, you paid for the work, you collected your car after the respray. You signed off at every stage. But you still have something which just doesn’t work.
In technology, perhaps even more than elsewhere, the skill of the individual matters more than which organisation they work for. The purchaser has to determine whether the proposed solution is in their best interests or just a way of solving an immediate problem. In this environment, Caveat Emptor, or buyer beware, rules supreme.
So be careful when choosing a CRM partner. And before agreeing to expensive CRM customisation or add-ons, be very sure you need them!
Opsis is an expert Microsoft Dynamics 365 consulting company. Our focus is your Microsoft Dynamics 365 success - not licence sales or billable hours. As Principal Consultant, Gill oversees all business operations and strategic planning and execution, yet she still believes in offering personal attention to each and every client, so as to understand their needs and offer tailored solutions. We are based in Sydney, with clients in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and across Australia. We offer Microsoft Dynamics 365 strategy, Microsoft Dynamics 365 scoping, Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation, Microsoft Dynamics 365 technical support, Microsoft Dynamics 365 advice and guidance, Microsoft Dynamics 365 training and mentoring.