A LinkedIn post led me to a blog article entitled “Here’s why customers should stop paying for customizations!“. In it, the author, Guus Krabbenborg suggests that organizations using Microsoft Dynamics 365 would be much better off if they used out-of-the-box capabilities and did not resort to customizations. Although I greatly respect Guus, I could not disagree with him more on this one.
The Swiss Army Knife
I recall receiving as a gift from my kids a Victorinox “Swiss Champ” knife with 73 functions… it was glorious. I used to be quite handy, and I reached for this multi-tool many times, but too often, even with 73 tools, it did not have the tool I needed for a particular task. In fact, I don’t think I ever used more than 10 of them. If it did have the right tool, it took me several minutes to find it and dig it out to use. It was also cumbersome and heavy; putting it in your pocket would cause you to walk funny. So I put it in a drawer, where it has remained all these years since.
Dynamics 365, particularly CRM is Microsoft’s “Swiss Army Knife” for “any business”. Microsoft does not produce a version specific for Yacht Brokerages, or Petroleum Distributors, or Property Managers or [insert your business here]. I’m not knocking the product, Microsoft themselves say they depend on ISVs and SIs for the “Last mile”, which can often be several miles.
The perennial challenge of Business Applications and CRM in particular is user adoption. Why? Because the out-of-the-box solution has 73 functions that don’t fit your business, or don’t fit it close enough. Another reason is that a user’s job may only require five functions, yet they are still faced with 73 to wade through. The entire “out-of-the-box” experience is unpleasant, and if you are able to, you will avoid it completely, or engage at the minimum possible level. This is a failed implementation, and customizations are the only way to prevent it.
But Aren’t You in the Customization Business?
No, I am in the Success with Business Applications business, customizations are a necessary tool. So let’s address some of the Author’s points one-by-one.
In describing “what customization does to the organization” the author cites:
“It maintains outdated business processes”
I can’t entirely disagree with this point, if the customizations a customer is asking for, as they often do, is to “make it work like it used to”. But a good Partner will respond, “how about instead we make it work much better than it used to?”.
“It extends implementation”
While there is something to be said for “Failing Fast”, I think it is better to not fail at all. With the low-code and other tools we have today, customizing something to actually fulfill a need in a user-intuitive way takes far less time than training the user to navigate the out-of-the-box experience to ultimately sorta, kinda fulfill some of the need as they slowly march toward failure.
“It increases complexity”
Nope, opposite. The goal of customization should be to decrease complexity, radically. Part of the job is not only adding or modifying necessary components to meet the business’ unique requirements, but also to streamline the UI to fit the organization with less complex apps and automation.
“It enlarges your dependence on individuals”
I’m not clear on which individuals in particular he is talking about here exactly. But if by staying with standard features, he means you only need to depend on Microsoft, then he has never opened a Support Ticket with them. Or he may be referring to individuals on the Business’s staff who have performed customizations and then leave the company, which is a good reason to use a reputable Partner.
“It makes projects unnecessarily expensive”
It makes projects cost what is necessary to have them succeed for you. If you can’t afford to pay what it costs to have it work for you, you might as well skip the whole idea and save the time and money. Most reputable partners will seek to use “out-of-the-box” features if they meet the need, and only customize those that don’t, to minimize costs. In our case in particular, since we perform these services as part of a fixed-cost monthly subscription, we have no incentive to perform unnecessary customizations as it just drives up our internal cost, yet the team is doing “necessary” customizations all day long. We also have a huge incentive for the customer to succeed so they will renew.
“it blocks innovation”
I don’t get this one either. What can be less “innovative” than sticking with “out-of-the-box”? Innovation is the entire premise of customization. Half of what we do is introduce new capabilities to customers to solve long-standing business challenges in new ways. Thankfully Microsoft has made available a huge toolbox of innovation to draw from like automation, low-code, AI, the list goes on and on.
In support of his “no customizations” thesis Guus offers these “advantages”:
“easier modernise your business processes”
If you are prepared to conform your business to Microsoft Engineering’s ideas of how a generic business should operate, then yes it will be easier to fail fast.
“become more attractive to do business with”
Customization is how you become more “attractive”. “Out-of-the-box” is basically invisible to customers. Using customizations we created a fully automated process for a customer to get an instant quote for our “Services as a Subscription” on our website without talking to anyone. This required a custom table in our CRM, customization of the Contact table, integration of the web form with Dataverse and power automate to pull it all together. Our customers think we are very attractive 🙂
“have cheaper, faster and less complex implementations”
At first read this sounds awesome! But it is actually a race to failure, again skip it entirely and just keep doing what you are doing.
“take full advantage of all available innovations”
“All available innovations” are not even available “out-of-the-box”! You can only take advantage of “most” of them with customization.
Many necessary customizations will simply be adding and modifying to address basic Business “functional” requirements of your unique business. Stuff that Microsoft could not possibly have contemplated. But, if you are a successful business, particularly in comparison to your peers, then you probably have something unique in your Sales, Service or other processes… your “Secret Sauce”. The last thing you want is to conform your successful business processes to any “out-of-the-box” features, instead you will want to try and capture your magic, and customization is how you will do that.
To Be Fair
I’ve met Guus and he’s a smart guy. He may be talking more about ERP here, which is not in my wheelhouse, but he did specifically include “CRM”, which I live and breathe. I hope he is a good sport and is not offended by my contrary opinion. But he knew he was writing a controversial post, and I thank him for giving me the material to write this one. 🙂