Customisations – an ERP for you and you and you

note: this post was originally published in German on my Blog on

The problem is as old as ERP standard software itself: Customisations. On the one hand customers want their software and processes to be as aligned as possible. On the other hand software vendors such as SAP warn customers who go too far with their mods, as these might threaten future upgrades – could even make them impossible.

“As little as possible – as much as required”

During the late nineties when I started out as SAP Developer I pretty soon learned  the golden rule of customisation “As little as possible – as much as required”. Meanwhile SAP tried to promote topics such as “Best Practices”. And there was a good reason for that: the Walldorf concern has insight into a vast amount of corporate processes and value chains – this knowledge is leveraged in “Best Practices”.

We want to be different, but how?

Halfway through the past decade it seemed as if the protagonists of vanilla SAP ERP system had won the customisation battle. Meanwhile, many customers started comparing a SAP Implementation with pouring concrete of their processes, set in stone forever. While I always thought this view was slightly exaggerated, you can’t help but ask yourself the question where IT-relevant competitive advantage is supposed to come from if more and more companies use the same software and none or very few customisations are allowed.

In a publicised report from February 16th 2011 by Eric Kimberling (Panorama Consulting, Denver, CO) about a survey Panorama conducted amongst 185 customers who have implemented ERP, it appears that customisations are back on the block. While 2009 28.3% of implementations were free of any customisations, 2010 only 15% left their ERP system in its original condition.

I think the following additional findings of the report need to be taken into account here:

  • shorter implementation cycles: if less time is consumed to implement the system, the more can be spent on customisations
  • more implementations with a business case: those customers who do their “homework” are obviously also more clued up when it comes to requirements for their customisations

It also has to be pointed out that for example the tooling used for SAP ERP customisation have become more reliable, more flexible, yet have also become safer and standard conform. However it has to be emphasised that the calibre of consultants performing the customisations is paramount.

A future without customisations?

When looking at the survey results from a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) angle, there is obviously another interesting aspect. Software vendors like SAP emphasise the fact that its Business ByDesign suite is not customisable at the core and thus provides more stability and rapid innovation. It’s important to note that ByDesign is an offering for small and medium sized enterprises. Plus: smaller customisations and add-ons can be developed for ByDesign using a SDK (Software Development Kit), but it still remains to be seen whether that is enough for customers in this category.

Do the survey results show that customers want “their” system again? Don’t IT Departments fetch the development toolkits again in order to give their ERP system an IT-driven competitive advantage? No matter how customisable and flexible ERP systems of the future will be, “As little as possible – as much as required” will remain our motto for longer than some make us believe.

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