“How do I choose the right systems for my business?” Off the shelf software is the answer!

Will Astbury
by Will Astbury 20 December 2016

“How do I choose the right systems for my business? Should we build bespoke systems or is off the shelf software the answer?”

Choosing to invest-in and install a new business application into an organisation can be one of the biggest, career-defining, decisions a CIO can make during their tenure.

Making such an important decision is extremely difficult. It is critical that an in-depth assessment is carried out before such a large-scale investment is made and before there is a major reworking of the technical infrastructure of your company.

However, delivering a long-winded, in-depth, assessment is not necessarily the best option in the modern market place. In the digital age, you need to react quickly to ensure that your organisation doesn’t lose ground to your competitors.

So, what’s the answer? Eddie Nicholas, Director of Client Services at Crimson, is an application lifecycle management expert and therefore works with a lot legacy technology. He said: “Choosing a platform isn‘t just about solving today‘s problems. It‘s about building for the future. The platform you choose will be with you for some time to come, so you need to be sure you have a solid foundation on which to build your application — one that is able to respond as the business changes.”

What are the advantages of off the shelf software?

As a Microsoft Gold Partner, Crimson specialises in developing solutions using Microsoft Dynamics 365 as a platform. We believe that solutions developed in this way are quicker, cheaper, more complex, better for integration, and more agile.

Nevertheless, some consultants think that developing bespoke solutions, which are tailored to an organisation’s individual requirements, are the answer.

In Crimson’s recent white paper ‘Application Development: Are Off-The-Shelf Solutions The Only Future?’, we penned a chapter called ‘Bespoke & Off-The-Shelf Solutions To Common Challenges’. Here is our comparison of those solutions. You can use it to help you with your decision.

Challenges

Bespoke

Off-The-Shelf

On-going Maintenance

With a bespoke system, you can fix problems in house, which is quicker than waiting for an external operator. However, you may need to ensure that you have the skills within your IT team to deal with any issue that arise. You will also have to ensure that there is extensive documentation about your bespoke solution as external advisors and new members of your team may not know how to fix a system that has been created by a handful of individuals.

Microsoft has a sustained engineering team dedicated  to full time support and a development team dedicated to creating the next version of Dynamics. The sustained engineering team spends its time monitoring the newsgroups, doing bug fixes, and putting together patches to address the pressing needs of current customers. This support is covered by your license fee, which is significantly cheaper than employing a full-time team.

Centralisation

The level of your system’s data accuracy and sharing abilities depends on your requirements for that application. If you have built or you’re planning on building an application, which integrates with your other technologies that’s great. However, it may be impossible to integrate some bespoke applications further along in their lifecycle.

Using Microsoft Dynamics 365 as the platform for your line of business applications means that they all share a single database. This provides visibility. All the applications have access to all the information. Obviously, you can choose not to expose all information everywhere — but you get to choose.

Building all the applications from the same platform helps prevent the silos of information that develop with disparate systems. Because all the systems work together, users have one source where they can gain a complete view.

Standardisation

With a sustained investment in training and a supportive management structure, users can get used to a bespoke system and they will become experts in that application with sustained use. However, adoption of unique systems can take time. Particularly if the new solution is markedly different to the previous application users were operating.

A standard Microsoft-based system with a consistent user experience often results in easier adoption and lower training costs. Microsoft has now been entrenched in education systems and organisations for decades. Users have grown-up with Microsoft technologies and are extremely comfortable and familiar with its various user interfaces.

Remember when Microsoft OneNote came out in 2007? It was a late-comer to the Office family, and that proved a good thing. A new OneNote user was already familiar with 50% of the functionality because it was part of the Office family. Likewise, when your applications are built on Microsoft Dynamics 365, they all inherit its clean, easy-to-navigate, web-like user interface.

Simplification

Bespoke platforms can be as simple as the developer wants them to be. However, bespoke solutions are mostly developed to solve unique problems. And therefore, building a solution to a common issue from scratch is not financially viable and is a lot of unnecessary work.

Using Microsoft Dynamics 365 as your platform provides a proven, standard architecture for all of your organisation‘s systems. That means less integration and documentation issues. Instead of three different developers building three different systems to track clients, service calls, and finances — a common scenario within organisations — you will have one system.

Integration

It is harder to integrate bespoke applications with other solutions, whether off-the-shelf or bespoke. In today’s market, we mainly see bespoke applications being developed to integrate legacy bespoke systems. It is very rare that we see a new bespoke solution because of the hurdle of integration.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 was built specifically to integrate. It‘s a simple web service: a .NET front end with a SQL back end. It‘s WS-I compliant and supports ODBC, BizTalk, and so on. It is a platform that has integrations already built for many products available in the market place and it works seamlessly with other Microsoft products.

User Productivity

As mentioned earlier, user adoption and productivity when operating a bespoke application depends greatly on the capabilities built into the solution, and the investment in user training and support by an organisation.

Ensuring that the platform provides a user-focused experience that is consistent across all applications is essential to achieving the goals of any system. It‘s frightening how many times organisations have invested years in developing and deploying costly systems only to have the implementation fail because users found the system too difficult to learn and use.

An application is only as good as the data that goes into it. When users see their own productivity improved by using the system, they are more likely to enter the data that makes the system valuable to the organisation. Microsoft Dynamics 365 comes with several productivity tools that add value for users.

Latest Technology

You and your developers can choose which technologies to build your bespoke application on. You might choose the most up-to-date technology but you will need to build an IT team to support and upgrade that technology or you will need to develop a service agreement with external developers to ensure that they monitor your solution and keep it up-to-date.

With off-the-shelf solutions, you get to work with the latest technology. As a platform, Microsoft Dynamics allows you to leverage technologies like .NET 3.0, SQL 2007, Visual Studio 2008, and Web 2.0 technologies such as AJAX, Windows Workflow Foundation, and Service Oriented Architecture. Microsoft maintains and updates the platform, as new technologies and functionalities become available.

Delivery Times

Building a bespoke solution from scratch takes time because there will be several simple functions that need to be built, let alone the more complex elements of the application. Then it will require testing and refinements.

Microsoft Dynamics provides a solid starting point as a development platform as it has all the standard features and functions included in the package. You are starting with a proper platform with integration capabilities on which you can build unique customisations.

 

You can download a FREE copy of ‘Application Development: Are Off-The-Shelf Solutions The Only Future?’ if you want to learn more about choosing cost effective solutions and building innovative applications. Click the image below to download.

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Crimson is an IT consultancy, an IT solutions provider, an IT recruitment agency, and a Microsoft Gold Partner with offices in Birmingham and the City of London.

Topics: Micrsoft Dynamics 365, Off The Shelf Software