By Matt Pollock, V.P. Solution Sales, Harte Hanks
Fulfillment providers often work with what could be described as “legacy” systems. Now, some of you may equate that term with “antiquated,” but it can also mean core—as in foundational. If that works for you in an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” process, great. But while basic core systems may work for the ongoing fulfillment needs for some, others require unique customizations to meet their own internal business needs.
We all have to start with a foundation, sure. Most companies who don’t build their own foundational system will pick an “off-the-shelf” model and are forced to create their core fulfillment process around the limitations of that boxed software. Sure, it can do the fulfillment and ecommerce solutions that will have them thinking, “Ok. That meets the basic requirement of a what a ‘good’ system should be.” But they’re only thinking about those executional functionalities that are generic, or applicable to any company—not about the potential or necessity for customizing the software to specifically meet the needs of their own company.
The way I see it, a foundation, or core, should be able to be built upon to keep you, and your customers, up-to-date and relevant. But how do you do that? You can begin by setting up a solid, well-developed system.
To Customize and Stay Updated, That Is the Question
Be aware, that clients seeking customized systems may need or want the state-of-the-art and what’s modern in a webtool for the standardized market, but they also need to address their own internal business rules which are unique. Sometimes these one-off tailorizations don’t play nice with a normal warehouse management system. The threat to customizing an off-the-shelf system for individual tools is that, once you do it, you’re no longer eligible for an annual upgrade. Five years could go by and your client is stuck out on an island with your outdated, customized software. That becomes a problem for the customer and a threat for the company that provided the tool for them.
How do you manage to maintain freshness as things evolve and still meet your customer’s customized needs?
Rising Above the Pack
We developed our system around our process. We set it up ourselves and own the code, which allows us to modify it, if and when it’s necessary. That’s a real differentiator in the market.
When setting up a customizable system, keep the following in mind:
- Create a system with a methodology of understanding the marketplace through consumer demand in technology and improvements.
- Have regularly scheduled meetings to create a blueprint for the future.
- Plan out budgets and put thought is put into any necessary ongoing improvements.
- Discuss any functionality you’d like to include in this “new base” system.
- Prepare for yearly new version releases of the base software system.
- If you are operating out of many locations, having common systems is a benefit. This allows for multi-site distribution, immediate disaster recovery as well as shared investment.
Properly managing business rule development while allowing for ongoing release, that’s the dance. You can’t customize to the fact that you won’t be able to rise with the tide. With our industry experience we’ve become familiar with the potential problems of customization.
The expertise is in providing the business functions you need while allowing you to stay mainstream with the rising tide. When you own the code, you can stay on top of the modern developments and customize for unique customer-specific business rules. That’s what puts you above the pack.