Configuration versus customisation

Engineering organisations know the true value of document management systems. That they are needed is rarely disputed, but the cost of selecting, running and installing them is frequently a barrier to the implementation of an effective solution.

Engineering organisations know the true value of document management systems. That they are needed is a fact rarely disputed, but the cost of selecting, running and installing them is frequently a barrier to the implementation of an effective solution.

Engineering programmes are frequently spread across multiple departments and third party organisations, which makes keeping track of progress on individual projects a complicated task. Document management solutions are installed to allow the managing partner to maintain control over the flow of documents, keep on track with approvals and grant access permissions. An effective document management system encourages accountability through the creation of audit trails to determine where documents have been amended and by whom.

Acquiring and maintaining business depends on the ability to fully understand a client’s requirements and then present quality proposals that can be stored for reuse. Because a construction’s operational data has a lifecycle similar to that of the construction itself, the effective management and reuse of Engineering Content is crucial to the success of evolving design and construction initiatives.

In a difficult economic climate, businesses are rightly looking to cut their levels of expenditure, but in an increasingly competitive market need to be sure that there is no compromise on the quality of solution that they deploy.

Three factors that need to be addressed are cost, flexibility and quality.

Regardless of the sector in which they operate, all businesses look for value for money, diversity and dependability from a document management system. Whilst the latter two requirements have long been achievable, it has nearly always come at a price.

Traditionally, engineers have taken one of two options when implementing a document management solution- either develop their own internal system or, more commonly, select a platform and use the expertise of consultancy to tailor a bespoke solution. However, experts in the DM field have developed a third option in recent years in the form of configurable document management applications.

Traditionally, databases and other information management software have been developed to deal with structured data. However, configurable applications have been designed to manage inherently unstructured data, affording them a great deal more flexibility than a customised solution.

Configurable applications have developed from Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools to allow businesses to tailor a generic platform to best meet specific requirements. Configurable applications come with best practice heritage as standard, including common business rules and a history of how the solution was arrived at, which is a crucial consideration for businesses operating in a heavily regulated environment.

There are several levels on which this can offer real business benefits:

Reduced Implementation Times

A customisation approach to document management requires the final design to be prepared in advance of implementation and leaves little room for amendments in the development process. Therefore, the development process relies on information that may have become redundant following completion of the system’s design. The end result is that businesses will need to fund the cost of the time taken to design and develop the solution, without actually seeing the benefits up front and that once completed the system may not offer the required level of functionality.

Configurable solutions offer a much more effective alternative. Firstly, a configurable application will come with best practice heritage as standard which means that it can sit on the chosen platform and already have a given level of functionality before the implementation has begun. Once the design of the system has been decided, the customer themselves can quickly learn how to configure the application to meet their requirements and the same applies to the future development of the system. Both factors require no time with consultants and can reduce the rollout time considerably.

To give an example, a customisation project that would take between 6 and 12 months to reach completion would see up to an 80% reduction in the implementation time by using configurable applications. This means that once the choice of system has been made, it can be and running considerably faster than if a customisation approach were to be taken.

Returning the Ownership of Intellectual Property to the Customer

Configurable applications put the ownership of the document management system and its content firmly back in the control of the business. All too frequently, the use of consultancy means that companies can be held to ransom towards the end of an existing contract. Often they can be charged for the return of their own information that is held on a system, because only the supplier can gain access.

With a configurable solution the customer can carry out updates and amendments in-house. Employees are trained to use the applications, and following just a few days of guidance are able to operate the same level of functionality as a customisation trained individual would have at their disposal after a 6-9 month training period. As training can be a part of the service level agreement made with the vendor, future staff training is far less costly and negate the need to depend on consultancy.

Rapid Validation of Business Rules

One of the major drawbacks of customisation is that business rules (those factors that govern the way a system functions) need to be worked-out in advance of the implementation. As this article has already highlighted, a customisation approach to document management will involve a prolonged period between selecting the solution and having the system up and running, so what happens if the rules need to change in the mean time?

Here another benefit of configurable applications is apparent. As the software simply requires users to check boxes, business rules can be experimented with and adapted within hours. Therefore, whilst the initial business rules can begin to be formed in advance of the implementation, they are not set in stone, but are simply rules that are most relevant at the time.

Low Cost Flexibility

Linked to the shorter time scales required to validate business rules is the low cost of future changes. The staff have already been trained to configure the system which means that they are also able to update the system in a timely manner without incurring the extra expense of further consultancy.

The flexibility afforded by such a solution is of particular importance to those market sectors in which regulatory compliance is an essential part of their business operations. With many regulatory bodies frequently updating the details of compliance, it is essential that the document management solution is able to support both the current and future needs of any organisation operating in such an environment.

Where updates and changes to the way in which a company is required to operate form an integral part that organisation’s activities, it makes sense to select a configurable system that allows changes to be made in a manner which is timely and cost effective.

Configurable applications are user friendly in all aspects of their functionality, a crucial consideration for businesses looking to update their document management facilities with as little disruption as possible. Many of the applications have been developed with years of best practice heritage at their core and offer improved functionality without changing key aspects, such as the user interface, to reduce the negative impact on the user.

This degree of flexibility is crucial for the continuation of business operations and the improved management of documentation can even provide a competitive advantage by reducing the period of time required for a project to reach completion.

Regardless of the quality of the platform upon which a document management solution is built, the only way to guarantee that it will meet your business needs is through further development. Whilst both customisation and configuration offer the ability to create a bespoke solution, configuration provides a cheaper (to implement, run and update), faster (to design and develop) and more flexible solution to meet the changing needs of your business.

For businesses that have already gone down the customisation route, there is no reason why they cannot still take-on the benefits of a configurable system. From the time frames that have been highlighted earlier in this article, it is clear that considerable savings can be made by using a configurable application to provide further functionality. The flexible nature of configurable applications means that they can easily be employed to run alongside the existing infrastructure and still provide real benefits and help to solve the problems that might have manifested themselves as a result of the customisation process.

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