Customizing SaaS Applications: How to Manage Changes in Cloud ERP

July 4, 2019

Different businesses have different, unique needs that can be met through customizations, and they have customized and extended their on-premises applications for many years. Customizations can refer to any feature, extension, or modification made to existing functionality that requires custom coding and has not been prebuilt by the developer of the core application.

In traditional, on-premises ERP systems, customer-specific business practices led to increased customizations resulting in maintenance and upgrade challenges. However, SaaS applications require a different approach. You can’t view SaaS applications the same way you viewed the on-premise software. Modern SaaS applications offer personalization and configuration within the application and are always ready for upgrades and enhancements without the need for technical assistance.

SaaS applications can’t be modified by building customizations that include changing the core product. Instead, the best approach is to use SaaS applications in the most standardized way possible, reducing costs and complexity. Organizations that accept standardization and are willing to adapt processes, rather than considering customizing SaaS applications, can realize the benefits of automatic software updates.

Configuration should be the mandate over customization. Most SaaS applications offer a configuration framework that’s more capable than similar frameworks in on-premises solutions, allowing users to tailor the solution to different business needs. If customizations are necessary, establish a strategy to manage and support them throughout their life cycle. Customizing SaaS applications makes automatic updates more complicated and risky, requiring more testing and quality assurance.

Minimize Customization by Selecting Best-Fit Solutions

Select the SaaS applications that offer the closest fit to your business requirements. It requires having a good understanding of your requirements, and a well-established decision framework to prioritize them. Determine which requirements are essential to your business, and which ones are simply nice to have. The former should guide your selection, and the latter should be avoided altogether.

Adapt your processes to the solution, not the other way around. Instead of customizing SaaS applications until your users are satisfied, your users should be willing to adopt the best practices built into the solution. Thousands of companies use many SaaS applications, so the question you must ask is if your company is that different from what many others have adopted as best practices.

The first approach requires you to prioritize some business requirements enough to base your selection decision on them. The second approach views most other requirements as flexible enough to be adapted to whatever the selected solution offers. Balancing these two approaches requires deep business understanding and active collaboration between all the stakeholders. It is crucial for everyone to move away from the traditional thinking that business requirements could be fulfilled by building customizations.

Consider Complexity and Integration While Evaluation Customizations

Despite following the above approach, there will be cases where important customizations are unavoidable and have to be implemented. This usually occurs when a best-fit solution is not available in the market, or where the business has a unique requirement that demands customization. Complexity and integration are the main factors to consider when determining how to customize your SaaS applications:

Complexity: Simple modifications can usually be done using standard methods such as configuration whereas complex modifications require customizations to achieve the desired functionality.

Integration: Modifications that need to be deeply integrated with SaaS applications should be done using configuration as much as possible. If the modification is too complex to be achieved by configuration, it should be built as customization within the framework of the solution to ensure deep integration.

Build Extensions Using PaaS

The ability to seamlessly customize and extend – connecting apps, systems, and business processes to your SaaS applications as needed – will allow your end-users to use them without any disruptions. Though SaaS applications do offer a certain level of flexibility in terms of customizing the user experience, extending technology components is still a challenge. PaaS gives your users the ability to quickly and easily add new features or functionality to your existing SaaS applications, allowing you to evolve and adapt quickly as your priorities change in the future.

Most SaaS solutions offer a proprietary software development environment, also called Application PaaS (aPaaS). Application PaaS is designed to integrate well with your SaaS, enabling you to extend and customize your SaaS applications in an easy, secure, and cost-effective way. Your users can authenticate once, and then they can use the PaaS-based extensions along with the SaaS services, without needing to sign in again or maintain separate user accounts and passwords.


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