Procurement Guide: Understanding Configurations & Customizations...C These Before You Buy
Enterprise-scale software systems often require some degree of modification to features and functionality in order to fit the buyer’s needs. These modifications can be split into levels of complexity that ultimately impact the bottom line. However, if you’re not a technology specialist or you only infrequently procure software, it’s possible that you may not be familiar with the two most common categories of modifications; Configuration and Customization.
A thorough understanding of how these concepts impact a budget will benefit you greatly when evaluating products side-by-side. Work with your vendor to be certain on what comes standard in their product, and what will require some development hours. This will aid you in getting the most features and services possible, and properly planning for any costly add-ons.
Configurations are minor changes to a system that require limited development hours. Within elections, examples of configurations may include special tabulation rules, a unique automation between an election management system and the state system, or the development of precise user roles and permissions. Configuration costs can usually be accurately estimated up front, as it may be something that has been requested by other customers, and is easy to estimate the development hours required. The cost for a configuration should be reasonable, and planning ahead will help you stay within budget.
The more time-consuming, most complex – and, hence, most expensive – of these is Customization. When a product needs to be customized, it involves code changes and is generally done by the vendor. This includes specialized functionality such as a mobile app that should be developed to accompany a web-based offering. Perhaps your department’s needs for time-efficiency demands an API be developed for automation with other vendors. In all cases, Customization requires a solid working partnership between the procuring team and the vendor to evaluate where Customization can be avoided, and if common Configurations are a feasible alternative.
It may seem counterintuitive that a technology company with products to sell would offer you guidance on how to get the best value, but the industry as a whole can benefit from transparent practices, and avoiding a “nickel-and-dime” approach. It is my hope that this post gives you the confidence to become an effective negotiator and responsible steward of your constituent’s dollars. I would be delighted to chat with you at any time on how you can possibly structure your forthcoming technology RFPs to be sure they are closer to the configuration end of the cost spectrum.