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Bespoke, Customise, Configure or Off the Shelf?

A must read for Membership Organisations embarking on Digital Transformation programmes. Learn more about the best technical approaches to ensure success when selecting new CRM and website CMS solutions.

Digital transformation is now a key priority for today’s modern membership organisation. Its easy to see why, with expected levels of return on investment sitting at an attractive 17% in the first year - according to Avanade.

Add to that an expected increase in business growth of 10% through improved member engagement and retention, an increase in productivity of 11% and cost reductions of up to 10% and we can clearly see why membership CEO’s are keen to take the journey.

But, how can we ensure that this complex process is successful and that we don’t fall foul of the ‘digital fatigue’ being felt by many membership organisations who have started the journey?

During the digital transformation journey there are many aspects that need to be considered including your business model, business processes, technical approach, cultural change and your members. In this article we address the Technical Approach.

Your choice of new IT systems, predominantly comprising CRM (membership databases), website CMS and member portals, to underpin the transformation process is key. Before you reach the point of selecting an IT partner or specific vendor systems, like Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Salesforce, it’s important to define a ‘technical approach’ that best fits your organisation, your budget and the capabilities of your internal resources. Do you need a simple off the shelf solution? Would a bespoke build fit you best? Or, are you best placed somewhere in between?

Membership Operational Challenges

The Drivers for Digital Transformation

According to MemberWise, in 2019 some of the biggest operational challenges identified by membership organisations were inadequate systems integrations between CRM and web, fragmented business systems and silos of information, indicating a clear case for prioritising technology in 2020.

Whilst the operational drivers for digital transformation are clear, the way forward from a digital systems perspective is a complex one. A number of potential routes are open to your membership organisation: Bespoke, Customise, Configure and Off the Shelf.

No matter which end of the spectrum you initially find yourself, the first thing to prepare for is some level of compromise. Whether it’s budget, delivery timeframe, flexibility, customisability, look and feel or integration, be prepared to adapt your approach for the best fit, not the perfect fit.

Lets have a look at the individual approaches in more detail:

1. Bespoke technical approach

The idea of building a system from the ground up, that considers each of your unique organisational requirements, is hugely appealing and rather costly.

Given the rate at which technologies change and your organisation evolves, building something that fits ‘precisely’ now may not serve your employees, members and stakeholders in the longer term. Developing a fully bespoke system, like a membership database or member portal, will offer you maximum flexibility, but will take a significant amount of time to build, will require constant evolution as your requirements change and will more often than not be cost prohibitive.

To build a solution with even half of the functionality offered by market leading CRM software vendor, like Dynamics 365 from Microsoft, would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. This is before you have even considered your website or member portal functionality, the extensive testing requirements and the next phase of features you may need in 6 months’ time.

Aside from the higher price tag, other key considerations include limitations to feature enhancements, less robust user testing and an inability to move to new system supplier, with IP and source code often locked down.

Bespoke Build

2. Customise technical approach

When it comes to ensuring your membership systems are future-proofed, the customisation option can provide the best of both worlds. Starting with the foundations of established industry solutions, like Umbraco or Sitecore web CMS’s, it is possible to adapt and build new features to fit the needs of your organisation.

A common misconception is that customisation is the same as configuration. Customisation is different, in that it adapts the source code and the architecture of the underlying solution. These customisation's can go far beyond core system functionality and even include fully bespoke bolt on features.

If you are an organisation that has very specific needs and functional requirements, that differ significantly from other membership organisations, this will be your most likely ‘technical approach’.

The biggest drawback of this approach comes when excessive customisation's have been made to the underlying solution. This usually causes disruption when making routine updates and upgrades. In this scenario the total cost of ownership in the medium to long term is higher.

3. Configure technical approach

As the demand for more flexible membership software continues to grow, system suppliers are moving towards a more diverse number of ‘configurable’ features within their solutions. This provides more flexibility, without changing any of the source code, and brings down the overall cost of the build.

Configuration means that existing generic functionality, in a CRM system for example, can be configured to meet membership specific needs – without the need for changes to the underlying code. A great example of this is our Membership Experience platform, MemEx. In this instance the MemEx platforms underlying solutions, Umbraco and Dynamics 365, have been configured to specifically meet the needs of membership and non-profit organisations.


4. Off-the-shelf technical approach

SaaS (software as a service) solutions, are great if you are happy to compromise on customised or configured features and adopt a set of pre-existing processes and functions. Out of the box you can quickly tap into a standard range of features, usually priced based on a monthly licencing fee. Any system updates are automatically released, normally on a quarterly basis, and don’t interfere with your use of the system.

Our advice if opting for a lower cost SaaS solution is to do lots of research before deciding. Consider if available features meet your organisational needs. Take time to look at reviews from similar organisations to see how solutions work for them and also pay close attention listed pain points. 

Technical consultation Wattle

Which technical approach is best for your Membership organisation?

Ultimately your technical approach should be carefully considered based on your organisation’s individual needs. If you are a small association or trade body, with limited budgets, perhaps an off the shelf SaaS solution will provide the best outcomes. In contrast, for larger institutes or royal colleges, a shift towards a tailored solution with more bespoke and customised elements might be most suitable.

In our experience, customisation and / or configuration are the most commonly adopted technical approaches.

This form of technical approach gives you the best of all the options combined. You can adopt globally recognised systems from large proven IT vendors and then, working closely with your chosen IT Partner, deliver the required customisation's and configurations for membership specific functionality.

Why might this approach be the most effective? Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination, and every membership organisation should ensure the systems and software they adopt enable them to remain flexible and evolve over time.

If you have any questions or queries relating to this, please don't hesitate to contact us on 0117 9717547 or info@wearewattle.com


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