Avoid Problems Implementing Off-The-Shelf Solutions

February 24, 2017
Written By John Lai

Off-the-shelf solutions can be a fast and affordable way for a company in need of technology to meet business objectives. Sometimes before the solution can be used, you need experienced professionals to help you configure the system, customize the user experience, populate the system with information, and train your company’s staff. We have rescued clients from vendors who do not implement off-the-shelf solutions correctly. Based on our observations, here are problems you should avoid:

Do Not Select a Solution Based on High Level Requirements

We have seen vendors and clients select off-the-shelf solutions based purely on popularity, buzz words and high level requirements. This becomes costly when everyone realizes they have overlooked many subtle but critical requirements that the solution does not support. To avoid this problem, the vendor needs to understand the business intimately. The vendor should assemble a detailed business requirements document that can be referred to during a thorough product evaluation phase.

Do Not Design The UI Before Selecting a Solution

We have seen situations where the vendor designs the user experience and user interface before the client has selected the off-the-shelf solution. This is NOT good – designing a glass slipper, and finding Cinderella after the fact is a story best left for fairy tales.

The ideal process should begin with the team evaluating several off-the-shelf solutions and selecting the one that best serves the business objectives. Next, the design team should design within the visual and functional constraints of the solution. This way, the capabilities of the off-the-shelf solution realistically confines everyone’s expectations.

Do Not Customize Beyond Core Capabilities

The team must accept the fact that off-the-shelf solutions may not meet every little detail the team desires (in the way a custom solution would). When vendors add too much functionality or customize too many features, the software may experience issues with usability, stability, and performance.

When customizing an off-the-shelf solution, we strongly recommend that customizations be limited to:

  • color/theme changes
  • text/image/content changes
  • application specific configurations
  • adding plugins

We argue against developing plugins for off-the-shelf solution unless it is an extremely popular platform (think household name) backed by a strong community, or there is guaranteed engineering support from the company that created the solution. We discourage modifying the core framework, which is generally a sign of forcing a platform to be something that it is not.

Do Not Build a Frankenstein

Some off-the-shelf solutions claim to be interoperable with many plugins and other third-party solutions. Avoid the temptation of integrating too many plugins and third-party applications. Often, different developers create third-party application in isolation of each other. When you cobble too many systems together, it may result in a complicated un-useable software that is also a nightmare to maintain. We call this a Frankenstein software. Avoid building a Frankenstein.

These are the most popular problems we see with clients implementing their off-the-shelf solution. Hopefully this helps you navigate around these problems!