The Case of ERP Customization
Customization is a privilege, which means it comes at a cost. Are you really ready for it?
"Hey, I like this shirt, but I need an extra pocket on the right, an extra button on the cuff, and a patch under the elbow", says a customer while checking a ready-made shirt.
"I understand sir, but I believe it will distort the original design of the shirt.", store salesman explains.
"No, that should not get disturbed. Can you also make the collar like of a shirt I am wearing now? Also, I want all of these by the end of this month!", customer adds.
What do you think are the odds of getting a fit, wearable shirt with the proposed customizations? I say that here, customer is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It generally fails!
Currently, if you are not using an ERP solution, you have an accounting package in place and have a good amount of your company's data sitting in the scattered spreadsheet files. Your inner professional keeping disturbing about it and calls for the organisation wide upgrade for the better information management system. That's how you realize the need for an ERP solution.
When it comes to an ERP software, you expect every business operation to be tracked inside ERP, from the very first day. The evaluation process highlights some gaps in the product with respect to your business needs. That's the moment you go tangent. Enters the scene, ERP requirements document!
Going the ERPNext Customization Way
Supposing we go customization way at the very beginning of ERP implementation phase. This approach has it's own cons & cons (not a typo).
In a business, there are some operations which are very critical. Without these operations being mapped into an ERP, the chances of a successful roll-out looks bleak. Agreed. But is venturing into customization project of a reinventing-the-wheel scale the only option? Did we try addressing this situation bit differently, like by bringing about some changes in the operation itself? Or did we look for a workaround in ERPNext (never underestimate a workaround!) to handle that case within ERPNext? In my eleven years of experience in the ERP landscapes, I have observed the ultra-complex scenario being resolved with an insertion of a mere custom field or a workflow. Given the customization features available inbuilt in the ERPNext, the possibility for the workaround type resolve grows many folds.
Customization requirements are the reality of life and you might need it. But if you go customization-first, you have some unforeseen problems ahead. Be prepared for it.
Customization is a Pandora Box
You decide to go for the customization, but hey, you will need to migrate to a dedicated server. Not a big deal in 2018. Let's rent a server on DO or Amazon and start in an hour. First hurled crossed. Congrats!
You talk with multiple Service Providers and finally gets engaged (actually marry) with one. They setup ERPNext on your server. And here starts customization. You ask for something, they design and deliver something. You disagree. They disagree. They lapse timelines. You lapse payment deadlines. Problems in the marriage kind-of-situation.*
Let's assume you come out of it someway. But by the time you roll-out ERPNext, the restless Frappe guys have introduced a new version. And bingo, that version has some features you badly need. You want your service provider to upgrade your account to the latest version. But they can't as it conflicts with the customization. Pandora Box has opened once again! Kudos to your patience sir!
Then comes the big day of going live. https://yourcompany.erp.com and boom! Your server crashed!!! Little embarrassment in front of the users, but that's just the beginning from the user's end.
The customization-way often leads to opened Pandora Box situation, a source of great and unexpected troubles. Troubles which repeat and re-repeats and re-re-repeats to bring nightmares in the lives of every stakeholder involved.
Customization Delays the Implementation
With the vanilla ERP instance (especially ERPNext), you can expect a go-live in a month's time. But with the customization, cycles can extend to months, and even quarters. With time passing, that hot iron, will for ERP implementation also heads out of your doors silently, only to further reaffirm your belief that ERPs are not for SMEs.
Change Management Practice Fails
ERP implementation in a company requires some serious internal selling. Supposing you did that job in the initial phases, but it is lost in the customization and feedback process. If that doesn't work, you have to do reselling again for the another ERP product. Will your users be again so excited and participative after an earlier failed attempt? You know the answer.
Start with the Core ERP
If you take this path, you just have an opportunity to roll-out an ERPNext in a record two to three weeks time. Yes, it's true with many of the ERPNext implementations across the world. ERPNext has a decent coverage of features, especially for the SMEs. It efficiently covers your sales, purchases, stocks, accounting, manufacturing and HR operations. In the first phase of implementation, if you are able to get even some of the modules implemented fine, you have solved 80% of your governance problem.
Starting with the core ERP also makes sense for many more reasons.
- Hit When the Iron is Hot
Faster roll-out of an ERP solution, when you are most motivated to implement it. If you get into customization, the timeline comes into the picture. Slowly and steadily, the interest in implementing an ERP solution goes into limbo, only to be revoked again after another management disaster.
Rather, if you implement ERPNext as-it-is when it is a right moment, you are highly likely to get it right at a first attempt. It is tested and proven with 600+ hosted implementation who renew their ERPNext instance with us annually.
- Commercially Viable to Start with a Vanilla ERP
Especially true with an open source ERP solution, you optimize a lot on the budgeting side. Just pay for the priority hosting and support charges, and you are on the move. The budget for the software licenses and customization is still on the table, which you can utilize later or just book it to your reserves account.
- Quick Buy-in from the Management and End Users
An implementation of ERP requires a buy-in on not just the management, but of the end-users who spend their good 8 hours of the day using it. If you give system in their hand quickly, they will faster realize the value of using it, and will most likely adopt it as their new operating tool.
Back to the Core and Start Again
At Frappe, we groups our subscribers in two categories. Graduates and Masters.
Graduates are the ones who want a hassle-free ERPNext instance. They subscribe to the hosted ERPNext instance. Go live in a couple of weeks. They are content with our remote support forever. Indeed they have their own set of work-flows adapted, tens of Custom Fields, Form and hand-made Print Formats. They have been able to use it this way for years now. We have some hosted subscribers who have stayed with us for good eight years now. They guys who just pick up a ready-made shirt and walk out of the store. We just love our graduates!
Masters are graduates by default (of course). They start with the hosted ERPNext account, but not absolutely content. Customization comes into the picture, and they are out on the masters' course. Then you know what happens. The pandora box*. Once their masters are complete, they come back to us (ERPNext hosting) and make peace with the group of graduates.
Introducing a new category, "the resident masters". They are the hosted ERPNext users, who make most of the open source nature of ERPNext. They invest in enhancing ERPNext while continuing with them in the hosted ERPNext environment. The feature they need could be beneficial for other companies as well. They go another ERPNext community member who is good with programming. That developer makes a feature, gets paid for it, and send a pull request to the ERPNext repository. We review it, provide a feedback where necessary and merge it into the core ERPNext. Ultimately, hosted ERPNext users, our resident masters get what they asked for. It's a win-win-win for all the parties in the community.
ERPNext and Frappes being an open source applications, gives you lots of flexibility in many aspects like hosting, customization, support etc. You have all the options right on the table in front. It's all about choosing the right option, at a right time. Make your move wisely.
Umair is Frappe's co-founder, VP - Partnerships, and mentor for Frappe School team.