Should you be bending software into wine shape?

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-engineed 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 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. 

Software houses stuffed full of developers (who love coding more than configuring) like them 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)? Usually 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. You are the one who “keeps changing the spec so we’re going to have to put together a new scope of work for the bits you got wrong”.

ERP frameworks want to do everything. Not quite the kitchen sink, but they include accounting, marketing (CRM), e-commerce and so on. That means once you are on it, you’re stuck – often stuck with functionality that is middle-of-the-road good rather than the best they can be from software authors who specialise and do nothing else. 

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 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’. 

Bottle and glass of wine in shadow

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