Re-customizing the Wheel

I’m sure that most readers are familiar with the price tag of an average business application license, however from the prevalent practices I witness, I’m sure that not all understand why the hefty prices.

A business application falls under the category of information management systems where the main asset being managed is an intangible one and the system is mainly used to control, distribute and process information among different stakeholders who happen to be people, giving rise to another sub category of systems called sociotechnical systems where people are not just users of the system in question, they are actually part of the system as well and their actions and decisions are intertwined with the said system components to form its business processes and facilitate business operation in general, and this is where I would like to put a distinction.

Such systems are tricky to architect, design and develop. You want to apply a systematic approach to business which happens to be a social science due to the fact that it involves people that are not exactly easy to predict and control. So in order for the same system to cover different industry verticals using the same horizontal approach, the system architect needs to leave some flexibility visa-a-vis customization capability.

Such systems sole existence purpose is to make it cheaper to use and quicker to deploy them rather than building a custom system for each and every different business, hence these systems usually cover most common and standard business processes whenever and wherever is possible, trying to cover as many laws and regulations in different countries as possible. Thus these systems had survived uncountable iterations of trials and errors in different parts of the world and basically survived the test of time in order to reach the form we know of today and hence the high price tag which bottom line seekers would pick any day instead of resolving to build the thing from scratch.

Yet, as it’s pretty obvious, it’s almost next to impossible for a single system to cover every conceivable process for each industry, what works perfectly for manufacturing fails miserably for banking and what fits like a glove for retail isn’t so much for real estate, etc. Hence the importance of customization capability which is a threshold capability for business applications is general in order to survive competition and to actually continue existing.

That being said, it doesn’t mean to rely solely on the customization capability of a system and forget that the system in question in designed to cover %80 minimum of the required business process, and if it doesn’t, then simply it’s not the right system to be used for such a business and a more fit system should be picked instead. However, I keep seeing people coming from solely a technical background trying to treat business applications as some sort of development platforms, inflating the customization scope to be %80 of the project budget, hence defeating the purpose of buying and implementing such systems. If the customization is going to be so significant in terms of time and cost, what is the point of buying the licenses then? Which problem does this system actually solves? Why not simply build a custom system from scratch and forego the licensing fees? let alone operating and maintaining such a system once it’s live due to the inherent complexity. You had definitely bought a wheel, however you turned it into a Ferris wheel. It’s definitely fun to build and use, but it does not serve any actual practical need.

By Unknown — The New York Times photo archive, via their online store, here, Public Domain,

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.






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