When evaluating the benefits of an IWMS for your organization, there are options to consider in the implementation process that will affect the business in both the short and long term. Many of the IWMS systems on the market today are customizable, meaning that they can be modified in their functionality to align more closely with business processes, bringing efficiencies, but that also brings some risk. In the case of an IWMS like IBM TRIRIGA, it can be customized to add new functionality, streamline workflows and provide tailored, role-based user interfaces. These modifications can reduce training and orientation for users, saving time, but can impact system upgrades in the future, potentially increasing maintenance costs.
There are three approaches to implementing an IWMS that need to be carefully considered:
- “Out-of-the-Box” OOTB
Each approach is considerably different in terms of effort and outcome. An OOTB implementation is the quickest and least expensive in terms of getting the system installed and into production. A configured system takes a little longer but adds efficiencies in day-to-day operations, such as automatically routing work tasks to the appropriate technician, based on rules and variables. A customized IWMS is a longer implementation but results in the most optimized system for the users and the business.
What exactly do these terms mean, what makes them different? We need to explore that question before we can look at the Pros and Cons of each approach.
According to Wikipedia:
“An out-of-the-box feature or functionality (also called OOTB or off the shelf), particularly in software, is a feature or functionality of a product that works immediately after or even without any special installation without any configuration or modification. It also means that it is available for all users by default, and are not required to pay additionally to use those features, or needs to be configured.”
An example of an OOTB software application, that can be used immediately after installation, is MS Excel, or any of the OFFICE suite. AutoCAD is another application that can be used right way without any setup. As architects, engineers and designers know, drawings are easier to manage with standardized layer naming conventions, that do not come out of the box. These layers would be added to the base drawing for convenience, as part of the configuration.
According to Wikipedia:
“In communications or computer systems, a configuration of a system refers to the arrangement of each of its functional units, according to their nature, number and chief characteristics. Often, configuration pertains to the choice of hardware, software, firmware, and documentation. Along with its architecture, the configuration of a computer system affects both its function and performance”
According to Merriam-Webster:
“To set up for operation especially in a particular way”
This term is the most confusing of the three in question here, as it does not have a clear association with software. But service providers have been using this nebulous term for many years to describe variability in the implementation process, but customers don’t necessarily understand what it means for them. What configuration basically means in this context is “Setup”.
Think of a gymnasium. It can be configured with round tables and chairs for a banquet, then reconfigured for a country dance, with small tables around the perimeter with the center open. It could be configured again for a basketball game. There is no customization activity required, no painting or building of walls, relocating doors, etc.It’s an arrangement of existing things. It’s also a term used in aviation, where an aircraft is “configured for takeoff”, which means the flaps, among other things, are set properly. Nothing about the aircraft needs to be customized however, it’s just a series of settings and inputs.
In the case of an IWMS, the setup can be basic, or it can be comprehensive, or somewhere in between. It is unlikely that an IWMS would be satisfactorily useable without any setup whatsoever. But with that said, the term can still be misconstrued. One IWMS project that I was involved with began with the directive from management “There will be no customization, we plan to use it Out of the Box”. Being an experienced consultant, I knew that was highly unlikely, if they wanted to get maximum value from the implementation. But what they really intended was “no customization, only configuration”.
Configuration, or the setup of an IWMS mostlyinvolves entering or loading data into the system. This is data that is pertinent to the business operations and will be different for each customer. The most basic example isSpace Classifications. Each space on a floor plan needs a standardized description, to provide meaningful reporting. “How many Meeting Rooms do we have and what is the total area?” To satisfy this query, all spaces that have a meeting function should have the same classification. If there were both “Meeting Room” and “Conference Room”, the reporting becomes problematic, if these are basically the same thing. There should be no ambiguities in the classification names in the list, so the user is not unsure as to which to choose. Setting up classifications that have relevant meaning to the end user creates efficiencies.
Out of the box, IWMS applications come pre-loaded with Space Classifications, so the business needs to; 1. Determine how many different types of spaces are in use in their organization and, 2. What to call them. The existing classifications are edited to suit the business.
More complex setups can involve multiple objects (data tables) that interact with each other to follow business rules, like Notifications. If you would like to have an email sent to the requestor of a work task when the work is completed, that requires setup. And setup does not require specialized skills, it only requires training or familiarization with the software.
Customization doesn’t require a Wikipedia reference, because it is somewhat self-explanatory. A customized car, for example, is one that has been modified by professionals, beyond its out-of-the-showroom condition. In software, customization is necessary when the configuration alone is insufficient to realize ultimate performance for the business. Large companies may develop custom enhancements for critical functions in their operations, or for specific reporting needs.
Universities need to calculate their Indirect Cost Recovery to obtain funding from the federal government.This reporting is specific to research institutions, so it is not included in mass-market software like an IWMS, thus it needs to be developed. The major impetus is the efficiencies borne out of the effort. It will cost more to build the enhancement during the implementation but the savings in the time spent ‘doing it the old way’ makes it economical.
For budgeting purposes, the business needs to look beyond the initial software purchase and custom development costs to consider the future impact that these modifications may have on support and software upgrades. Some software companies may deny technical support if the product has been ‘tampered with’, especially by a developer not properly certified. When it comes time to upgrade to a newer version, the upgrade may overwrite the custom enhancement, in whole or in part, causing a disruption to the business. Changes to the base software need careful consideration before they are made. Enhancements need to be thoroughly documented, and this can’t be underemphasized.
It’s very possible that when a custom enhancement was designed and implemented successfully, the original developer is no longer available in the future when its time to upgrade. Having thorough documentation of every delta is key, so knowledge is not lost.
The Pros and Cons
Out of The Box
- Easy upgrades
- Faster implementation / setup
- Less expensive
- Training material available requires minimal updates
- Easier to support
- Incorporated industry Best Practices processes
- Need to conform business to align with IWMS processes
- Implementation may be faster, but client may take more time to modify their processes
- Clients may need to continue to use (and pay for) other tools to complete all their processes (especially if unable to make process changes)
- Notifications and Approvals generated from the system may not be adequate
- Current reporting data may not be supported with OOB data structure
Configuration / Setup
- Add standard naming conventions, Classifications, Specifications
- Less expensive than customization
- Easy upgrades
- IWMS system is configured to align more with current business processes
- Easier to support
- Industry Best Practices still adhered to with minimal disruption
- Structured path to create configuration using TRIRIGA hierarchies and structure
- Need business to align with IWMS processes (no custom forms, etc)
- More expensive than just OOTB – more time to implement
- Current reporting data may not be supported with OOTB data structure
- Business Objects and Forms may not include client required fields/data
- IWMS can align with existing business processes
- Everyone gets exactly what they want
- Shorter learning curve because tool more closely matches their current environment
- Gaps in current process can be identified and neutralized
- Dashboards and Portals can reflect existing metrics and thresholds
- Existing reporting packages contain data that is comfortably reflective for current users
- Extra time to production
- Upgrades can be complex and expensive
- You cannot easily undo a customization once implemented
- Expensive to make updates
- Difficult to support – Limited transferrable AC knowledge on how support customizations
- Customizations may have ramifications throughout the system
- Extensive remediation testing required
- Newly released TRIRIGA functionality may impact the customizations negatively