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Custom Code or Configuration? A Solution Architect’s View

When do companies really need customization — and when would they be better off with an out-of-the-box product?

At first, deploying a custom-coded solution sounds ideal. After all, what executive wouldn’t like to have a bespoke solution that fits their organization’s needs to a tee? If a digital solution is made for an organization, it’s sure to be more effective than an out-of-the-box tool, right?

Not so, says Gerent Solution Architect Faith Hewson. When asked whether organizations planning to undergo transformation should consider custom-coded solutions from the start, Hewson shut the idea down almost immediately.

Image description: In an interview, Hewson gave us her perspective on custom code vs configuration.

As it turns out, ordering a custom-code solution is a bit like requesting a tailor-made wardrobe — nice in theory, but rarely worth the trouble in practice. Going custom means investing valuable time, money, and effort into a product that you could have gotten “off the rack” for a fraction of the cost

This isn’t to say that custom solutions aren’t the correct choice in certain situations; sometimes, organizations need tailored tools. But when do companies really need customization — and when would they be better off with an out-of-the-box product?

Custom Code vs. Configuration: What’s the Difference?

Custom code: A solution that is coded “brick-by-brick” for a company. While a custom solution can be constructed with some pre-built elements, the overall solution is tailor-made to a client’s specifications.

Configuration: A solution developed “out of the box.” In other words, a company integrates an existing, pre-made product into their operations, then customizes the solution according to their specific needs.

It’s important to remember that the goal of your initiative isn’t to create a unique digital framework — it’s to empower your business to operate more efficiently, effectively, and transparently. Both solution types have their use cases; however, most businesses don’t need a custom solution to achieve that goal and would be equally, if not better, served by a mass-market product.

Many top-tier transformation solutions are designed to be broadly applicable. Consider Salesforce Marketing Cloud, for example. Because the product was made to resolve universal marketing pain points, two businesses in entirely different industries could reap similar gains from implementing it. 

This universally-minded approach to design defines Salesforce CRM. The company’s offerings encompass a wide variety of products designed to address cross-industry pain points. Whether you aim to leverage their industry-specific offerings or their more industry-agnostic products, you’ll find that Salesforce use cases include marketing, service, analytics, community, and more.

Given this flexibility, Hewson says that most Gerent clients don’t need custom builds — and that’s for the best. As a rule, configurations are cheaper, quicker to implement, and easier to maintain than custom builds.

“The client is always better off implementing Salesforce out of the box,” Hewson asserted. “We would want to use a configuration-based solution unless we absolutely cannot do so.”

It’s intuitive; why pay to build software from scratch if a perfectly good solution already exists? 

Image description: See how we leveraged a Sales Cloud quick start to address Dunmore’s pain points in this client story!

When Is a Custom Solution Necessary?

All this said, custom work may be necessary if an organization can’t obtain the functionality it needs via configuration.

“If the client requests that account records or leads be presented or grouped on the page in a specific way, that would be a configuration change — we just move things around while we’re implementing,” Hewson explained.

“But let’s say the customer needs to surface the information in a way that the system ordinarily limits—maybe we need to incorporate information from their website on the page or brand the page to match their internal standards. Either of those scenarios would require us to develop a custom page.”

If custom code is necessary, companies should be prepared to invest additional time, effort, and money into the implementation process.

What to Expect from a Custom Build

Custom solutions require:

  • Additional time
  • Additional money
  • Additional maintenance

By definition, building a custom-code solution requires more work hours than a Salesforce configuration. 

"Custom solutions are built brick-by-brick by programmers,” Hewson said. “So, they require more programmer work hours and, by extension, more money to implement than configurations.” 

However, the cost of a custom solution might not be limited to upfront programming expenses. Unlike out-of-the-box products, custom solutions don’t come with convenient update capabilities; any changes will need to be coded by hand. This lack of flexibility doesn’t just pose an added cost — it may also prevent the business from adapting its digital solutions to meet emerging business needs in a timely manner. 

“If you have custom code, making any sort of change is going to require more time, money, and resources. But with a configuration-based solution, an admin who’s gone through Trailhead training can make a lot of necessary alterations,” Hewson explained.

When Would Companies Discover the Need for Custom Code? 

Image description: Our 2-hour discovery workshop helps you create and launch your implementation strategy; check it out here!

Executives will likely know whether or not their company requires custom-coded solutions early on. Generally speaking, this realization occurs shortly after they connect with their chosen Salesforce implementation partner — usually during the scoping process or functional workshop. 

Scoping process: A stage of consultation where information is gathered and analyzed to determine the project’s scope.

“When we scope, we usually get a sense of what the client wants and whether an out-of-the-box solution will meet their needs,” Hewson said. “During the workshop, we get a truer perspective into what their processes are — which will either confirm our initial scope or prompt us to expand it to include a custom component.”

Gerent clients are usually well served by out-of-the-box Salesforce products. Custom code projects are rare and usually limited to crafting additions to a configuration baseline. 

We can help your team decide if custom code is necessary for a successful transformation — contact us today to speak with a Salesforce consultant!

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