Why Out-of-the-Box and Configurable Software Is So Important Nowadays

In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses both large and small are cutting back on their software costs, because of the lack of sales. This includes software development and customizations which consist mostly of specialized software coding. Software developers command high salaries and rightfully so! They have certain expertise and skills to customize software applications for their company’s needs.

When a company still requires software applications, but cannot afford to use salaried developers any longer, they must seek out other avenues of technical sustainability. This is where “out-of-the-box” (OOTB) and configurable software come into play. Both are “no-code” solutions and are achieved via step-by-step procedures either from the manufacturer or online tutorials. Even if those aren’t feasible options, outsourcing configuration services are rather inexpensive and are often paid on a results basis (i.e., third-parties are paid when tasks are completed).

The benefits don’t solely lie with cost savings. Knowledge and expertise can be replicated and sustained. For example, when I took over an IT department, there was an existing senior software developer who had been employed with the company for a decade before my directorship. He had his style of writing code and resisted learning alternative methods, as well as new technologies. As a result, he was the only developer who knew the code structure of our tier-one clients’ analytical sites and it hamstrung us into keeping him on board, even when it wasn’t cost-effective (not to mention he was difficult to work with and to manage). The point I’m trying to make is that customizations require complex coding and unless you’re postured to employ software developers no matter what dire economic situation your company may encounter, you may end up DIW (Dead in the Water) if your applications need upgrading or repairing. A customized solution requires customized coding and that can be expensive!

What’s the difference between “out-of-the-box” and “configuration?” Out-of-the-box features or functionalities don't require any special modifications. What you see is what you get. Depending on the complexity of the software application, the features and functionalities may serve you just fine. For instance, If you merely need to store documents in a simple document repository, then an OOTB application, such as Google Drive, would work just fine. If however, you need a document repository that incorporates approval workflows, then a SharePoint solution would be a better option, as workflows would need to be configured. Either way, both these no-code options are cost-effective and efficient.

Now, one thing to keep in mind as it pertains to cost-effectiveness is core features. These are functionalities from which the application was primarily built for. When we speak of SharePoint, the core feature is document management and collaboration, hence the word “share” in SharePoint. You can develop customized solutions within SharePoint, but if all you need is to store documents and use approval workflows (i.e., document management), then additional development is starkly a “nice-to-have.”

It's also worth noting, technology is an important supporting asset for a company (unless a company sells technology then the technology also becomes an offered product/service; SAAP/SAAS). A technology director should always keep business growth in mind. After all, a company is in business to make money and monetary growth is of top importance. I've witnessed many times over my career that many tech professionals become too focused on the technology itself and forget about the big picture of helping the company attain profits. In the semiconductor industry, microchips are designed with GDPW (Gross Die Per Wafer) in mind to maximize the number of chips on a silicon wafer. By designing in bulk, you obtain a lower fabricating price per die chip. An engineer with an engineering mindset complemented with business foresight is highly valued.

In my opinion, configurable software makes the most sense. It's cost-effective, requires no complex coding, and can be learned by other department employees (if needed). What I mean by that, is there are many employees that can step in as a collateral duty and follow a step-by-step procedure to establish a new configuration. Case in point: One of my collateral duties as a technology director was to configure the company’s SharePoint solution. We didn't hire a dedicated developer or system administrator because (1) We didn't have the budget and (2) since I leveraged the application’s configuration settings, I successfully delivered solutions in times of need. Thinking about it more, if we did have a dedicated developer or system administrator, he/she would’ve spent most of the time sitting idle at his/her desk. That would’ve been an inexpensive sunk cost.

In summation, even though you may have had to (or need to) cut back on software development personnel, you can still carry on with your operations, as long as you stick to what is essential regarding your software applications. The two questions you need to ask yourself are:

(1) Can you use the application’s “out-of-the-box” features and functionalities?
(2) Can the application be configured by other personnel as collateral tasks?