By Chris Pennington
With IT projects that deploy applications we often see the competing pressures: buy a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) solution, or Build It Yourself (BIY). History shows that deploying COTS often provides the better medium-to-longer term investment option. Not only from a financial investment, but also a business opportunity perspective. In the early-mid 90’s large ERP (SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft) projects came spectacularly unstuck with costly overruns either during the implementation itself or several years thereafter when it came time to upgrade. “Vanilla” implementations quickly became the catch-cry of battle-scarred project managers.
So why do BIY projects continue to be undertaken? Presumably it is the temptation to build a bespoke solution that will match exactly the unique needs of an organisation. This temptation is fuelled by the release of new products which tout the promise of easy development, user-customisable capabilities and flexible integration using a purpose built toolkit. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 is just such a product.
There is no doubt that the toolkits and integration protocols that are released today are easier to use and they do provide better safeguards for upgradability. What hasn’t changed is the overly-optimistic outlook that “We can build a better solution ourselves” and the misguided view often held that a business is unique.
However, there is more to a solution that simply using the easy-to-extend toolkits. A “product” evolves throughout its life-cycle and needs updates to ensure it remains supportable and compatible with associated software; the operating systems and relevant databases for example. COTS are developed by Independent Software Vendors (ISV), whose business model and infrastructure are geared towards the development, enhancement and support of a product. In contrast, BIY projects are often the brain-child of organisations that are conducting one-off projects, whose core business has nothing to do with IT development.
The release of new products that bring more flexible and open development toolkits remains a positive step. ISVs can make better use of these toolkits to fast track product development and reduce the effort required for ongoing support. In the case of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, it builds upon previous versions and increases the ability of vendors to deliver niche applications. These “xRM” solutions can be rapidly brought to market to expand the functionality delivered by the base CRM application. There remains a world of difference between a supported xRM solution and a BIY project.