October 2007

To see how these concepts played out in our project for this client, please visit Designing and Managing Business System Customizations.

Todd Herman

Have you ever had a project start out heading in one direction that looked promising, and then veer off in the opposite direction that yielded remarkably better results? Of course you have. In information systems projects, there's the classic dilemma of "build vs. buy" – and unwary clients can be impaled by either the "build" horn or the "buy" horn.

Dilemma: Build or Buy?

Here's the "rest of the story" in such a "build vs. buy" dilemma – our case study in this month's e-update. We were originally retained by the CEO and CFO of a structural steel fabricator for a "system screening" project – that is, to review the 3 or 4 software packages that the CFO had identified, and to vet the choices. We found – just as our client had – there was not an obvious choice, because:

  • Lower-end industry-specific packages would meet the needs of one – but not both – of this client's lines of business.
  • Higher-end industry-specific packages would meet the manufacturing needs of both lines of business, but were too cumbersome for the streamlined operations of our client – they lacked sales and accounting integration and were priced well beyond the client's project budget.
  • General ERP (enterprise resource planning) packages were incapable of handling the inventory tracking and production planning needs unique to this industry.

Our work did identify another lower-end package we believed had the right base and fundamental structure to support customizations for our client – and our discussions uncovered that this vendor was eager to improve their software to address the needs of this client's second line of business. We provided our client with ideas for enhancements and some pointers for negotiations with the vendor – and we were done. Thus, our "system screening" project was finished.

Customization: Getting the Right Software

person contemplating which direction to take

A few months later, we received a call from the CFO, who said that, while the vendor was more than willing to develop the negotiated enhancements, our client was having trouble "speaking the language" of software development. Could we speak that language? Absolutely – in fact, that's one of the things we're well-known for! Thus began our "designing and managing systems customizations" project.

Over a period of several months, we:

  • Discussed these process changes with appropriate client personnel and obtained their agreement.
  • Translated the revised process into functional and technical specifications that the developer could use.
  • Managed the development work performed by the vendor.
  • Worked closely with the developer and end-users to understand and quickly resolve any issues during development.
  • Installed and tested enhanced modules, as they became available.
  • Resolved issues, once the software was rolled out for general usage.

So, "the rest of the story" for this client is this – the project ending up costing more than they had initially budgeted – in fact, it ended up being about the same as the higher-end industry-specific packages. Our client, however, got exactly the right software for their business, and quickly realized benefits that they had not anticipated. In fact, both the CEO and the CFO say that, while they would likely not have initially undertaken this project if they had known the eventual cost, they now say that the project has already paid for itself in inventory control and usage, system accuracy and data availability, and numerous time-saving business processes.

The moral of the story? Given the right consulting firm and the right basic package, a systems customization project could be the best possible choice.

If you would like to hear how a similar story could be written for you, please let me know.

Sincerely yours,


Todd L. Herman

Read more about the benefits of a System Selection Project