Most of the solutions in a typical business environment begin life on a yellow pad or a white board. The brainstorming exercises are always an exhilarating experience, at least they are for me. This elation is often short lived as the realty of taking the idea to an implementation phase. More often than not, the team that comes up with the solution is not the team that implements it.
The road to implementation could take many paths. They, invariably, fall in three categories:
The good old spreadsheet based solutions
It is after all a familiar platform and readily available. No new expenses to incur as in acquiring a new software. Also, less paperwork in justifying the expense of a new platform. Then there is always the effort of learning a new tool. Often the path of least resistance wins.
But is this the right answer?
In many cases it is a clear No. Spreadsheets are a fantastic tool for analysis but not a cure-all as we have come to assume. All of us have witnessed a basket full of spreadsheets created over time with no one to figure out what they are and even worse how to use them. The version control (which copy, if any, has all the changes) is a nightmare problem as we find multiple versions are lying around in individual hard drives. What started out as a simple, easy choice becomes a headache in not such a distant future.
Best of breed solutions
We find a platform (a boxed software) that promises to solve all of the problems. At least the important ones. It was easy we think. Buying the software was an easy part. A typical SAAS model with few dollars per month per employee with learning curve that is not too steep.
If this solution happens to be the core of your industry we are in luck. It solves the key pain points and easy to train or find already trained people on the software. It, however, turns into a monster as the time progresses.
- The original design/idea is lost – all of the boxed solutions have their own take on the problem and the solution. The uniqueness of your solution (read competitive advantage) is just about always lost. You are now one of the many.
- Integration with other solutions – just plain hard. You often find yourself creating custom integration just to make everything work together.
- Multiple sources of truth – more software in your portfolio the harder it is to maintain the integrity of the data. As an example there are now five employee directories and they are almost always out of synch.
- Spreadsheets never go away – Just about none of the boxed solutions ever solve 100% of the problems. You find yourself creating the patches often in terms of spreadsheets just to get to where you thought the boxed solutions would have taken you in the first place.
Custom bespoke IT solutions
This is probably the best solution one can have given that the money and time is not a constraint. The management bandwidth is plentiful and the required IT team is in place to implement the solution (even if you are engaging an outside firm.) One of the key point to note is that the “functional requirements” have to be detailed in its full glory. This is rarely the case. The consequences are always the scope and budget creep. No wonder most of the digital transformation projects have failed spectacularly.
So, should you not consider a custom IT solution? The answer is always that it depends. Specifically, before embarking on such a solution you should ask some hard questions like:
- The budget
- Time to implementation
- Management bandwidth
- Internal IT capability
- Level of customization required – look and feel, reports etc
- Algorithmic complexity of solution – work flow vs optimization as an example
- Data security and compliance
- Size of data (Database size)
- and many more such questions
I believe that many of the businesses by default chose to go this route of custom IT solution even if its not required. In my experience this number could be as much as 25-40% of all IT projects.
The no code solutions
These are slowly but surely becoming a viable alternative in many of the situations discussed above. In coming years, I believe, that it would be a norm rather than an exception. The portfolio of no code tools are gaining maturity rapidly and new tools are introduced almost every day.
The no code solutions should be a part of the “going forward strategy” for your choice of an IT solution.