Should you be bending software into wine shape?

27th February 2021

ERPs from the major vendors are supposedly easy to configure and to run. Yet configuration quickly turns into customization. Customization turns into compromise, and scope creep racks up the fees because business analysts rarely get on top of enough detail up-front to scope the work involved accurately enough. So you end up paying for a changing scope. The question you need to ask is: do I bend major vendor ERP software into wine shape or go a de-risked route with a business operating platform that’s specific to the business of wine?

Software as a Service (SaaS) should be a great thing. It reduces cost of ownership, improves availability and security, keeps you up to date with the latest version, gives you access to road-tested new features and makes the notion of obsolete software obsolete! No more 8-10 year reinvestment cycles.

As software authors and providers have re-engineered for SaaS and make their older platforms obsolete, the pressure is on businesses to carry on with unsupported systems or bite the bullet and move.

ERP frameworks (stands for enterprise resource planning which in plain non-tech English means ‘the software that runs your business’)  and generic WMSs (warehouse management systems) are typically proposed by software houses who act as resellers as the way to go.

The world’s largest software vendors make a fortune from these one-size-fits-all frameworks in license fees, precisely because they’re supposedly easily configurable for any and every business.

Except they’re not. Configuration quickly turns into customization. Customization turns into compromise. Compromise involves changing the way you run your business to fit in with global concepts of best practise. But best practise for a warehouse storing CPG products isn’t the ideal way to run a fine wine warehouse.

Software houses brim full of developers (who love coding more than configuring) like these ERP frameworks too because they can charge large sums and the configuration that becomes customization (that’s coding) turns the development cycle into an open check.

Meanwhile the software house’s business analysts are meant to grasp your business specificities in depth; at a level of granularity sufficient to enable a comprehensive business and technical specification to be formed. Except they rarely get into enough detail, because they don’t always know what question to ask relative to wine, or you forgot to mention something you considered so obvious that it wasn’t worth explicitly describing.

So what’s the difference between configuration (in scope) and customization (out of scope)? It’s called scope creep, which is a deployment team’s way of saying it’s your fault (that’s right you, the customer) for not being precise enough in the first place. After all, you’re the one who “keeps changing the spec” and who “got bits wrong”.

ERP frameworks want to do everything. That would typically include accounting, marketing (CRM), e-commerce and so on. It would also include the functions you need to operate within your market, and it’s these that end up compromised and limiting your scope for business development.

Think about it: is a dedicated accounting system like Sage, Quickbooks or Xero like to be better or worse than an accounting function that’s part of an all-singing (but not necessarily dancing) ERP? Are specialist accounting businesses likely to be more complete, adaptable, quicker and cheaper to set up than an ERP? You bet.

The thing is, in these halcyon days of APIs and web services, connecting best-of-breed platforms together is a lot easier than it used to be and enables you to pick the best of the bunch. Sure connectivity costs a bit, but it’s a small price worth paying to get the best set up for your needs. That set up would include core business functionality that’s specifically fit for your wine business, integrated with general business functions like accounting, marketing and e-commerce that are best of breed.

So back to the question: should you be bending software into wine shape or going a de-risked route, of a core business platform that’s specific to the business of wine?  That knows wine because it’s underpinned with one of the world’s best referential wine databases and associated rich content (and structured appropriately). That reflects and helps to redefine wine industry best practise. That streamlines processes rather than demands you conform to a generic high-level concept of best practise.

As one of our customers said to us recently: “we don’t want to adapt to software – we want it to adapt to us”.

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