At first listen, the idea of 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.
“A client should only need custom code if their implementation partner can’t meet their needs with a configuration solution,” she explained in an interview.
As it turns out, ordering a custom-coded 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?
Before launching into a comparative discussion, it might be helpful to establish a few basic definitions.
Custom code refers to 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 builds are developed “out of the box”. In other words, a company integrates an existing, pre-made product into their operations.
Both types can be used to further digital transformation. However, it’s important to remember that the goal of a transformation isn’t to create a unique digital framework — it’s to empower your business to operate more efficiently, effectively, and transparently. In most cases, 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’s Marketing Cloud as an 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 most of Salesforce’s products. The company’s offerings encompass a wide variety of digitization products that are designed to address industry-specific pain points and business priorities that span the gamut from marketing to service, analytics, community, and more.
Today, Salesforce serves more than 150,000 businesses and is, to borrow the company’s own words, “the only CRM that offers the full range of features and functionality at a cost that is scalable to fit any business.”
Given this flexibility, Hewson says that most Gerent clients don’t need custom builds — and that’s for the best.
The Benefits of a Configuration Approach
As a rule, configurations are cheaper, quicker to implement, and easier to maintain than custom builds.
“The client is always better off implementing 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 a software from scratch if a perfectly good solution already exists?
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 in a way that matches their internal brand standards. Either of those scenarios would require us to develop a custom page rather than manipulating a configuration.”
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, a custom-coded solution requires more work-hours than configuration projects.
"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?
Executives will know whether or not their company requires custom-coded solutions early on in the transformation process. Generally speaking, this realization occurs shortly after they connect with their chosen implementation partner — usually, during the scoping process or functional workshop.
“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-the-box Salesforce products. Custom code projects are rare and usually limited to crafting additions on a configuration baseline. We can help your team decide if custom code is necessary for a successful transformation — contact us today for a personalized consultation!