This is a stream-of-consciousness consideration of SaaS vs Custom vs Budget for organizations that use Salesforce CRM products
The best practice in Salesforce when providing a feature to users is to first look at the standard components, then in App Exchange and if neither of those have what you need, build it yourself (or have a partner build it with you). This is repeated over and over again in articles, videos, and training content developed about how to get the highest ROI using Salesforce. So why is the question asked so often, and why do some many organizations follow the least beneficial path in response?
One reason that seems drive a lot of decisions is that because each business has its unique factors that it requires a unique solution.
Another common reason often cited for custom development on top of Salesforce is that their needs are “not supported out-of-the-box”. This is sometimes elaborated with “we tried to use it out-of-the-box, but it didn’t work”.
The reality is that these organization, at some level, chose a Software-as-a-Service solution as the best value to fulfill CRM and related needs. This is an architecture to go with buy-before-build where most of the needs have already been paid for. In a well-managed enterprise architecture, any custom development once the buy-before-build principle has been realized with the selection of a SaaS solution requires an exception case.
The reasons often present for the exception case of building custom within Salesforce (when a case is presented) seem perfectly valid. If the product doesn’t provide the functionality required, custom is the way to go. What requires more consideration is how this conclusion was reached.
Sometimes it is made by stakeholders with no SFDC administration experience doing a search on the-search-engine-everyone-uses and coming up empty. It is a seldom acknowledged understanding that searching is a skill and that, like driving, it is not uncommon for people be more confident in their abilities than the evidence warrants. The next level of problem with this criterion is that being skillful in searching in one area of interest will not always translate to searching other topics. One factor that may not be (though should be) common knowledge is that the results of the same search can vary greatly when run from different user accounts. The search engine “learns” the types of results the user usually responds to and will provide the results prioritized based on previous searches.
The same issues with search can carry over to stake holders who do perform administrative tasks in Salesforce on a regular basis. Further, the predictive prioritization provided by the search engine will include what the majority have followed, whether it is the most correct or most accurate response to the query.
A scenario that is as likely as the subject matter neophyte searching for answers is when the search is performed by someone who is skilled in custom development. Here the same factors come to play both in how the questions are asked, i.e., “how to develop [solution x]”, how the search results will be ordered (based on most frequent selection of past results focused on custom solutions) and the fact that many developers build custom solutions because they prefer not to use administrative functions.
Salesforce has been refining their capabilities since 1999 and have been very successful at it. That success is not because they missed their customer needs most of the time. There are many organizations that are paying a huge premium in maintaining their custom solutions because insufficient due diligence was performed before customizing.
This isn’t to say that customization isn’t sometimes well warranted. There are many unique needs for solutions on the Salesforce platform, and it is why the Salesforce platform is as flexible as it is.
A well-architected and managed Salesforce org will have a mix of admins to developers that is at least even, if not heavy on the admin side. Depending on the size of the org, either the role of architect can be an external consultant, or the full-time architect will work with external development teams for the occasional custom requirement.
One misunderstood Salesforce certification is the Platform App Builder certification. It is listed in both the Administrator and Developer career path definitions, and it favors entirely meta-data-based solutions. This is how the out-of-the-box capabilities provided by Salesforce can be “customized” without having to maintain custom code. It also allows for developer to create custom components that can fill in any minor feature gaps that can be managed by administrators after development.
Many organizations are struggling with staffing competent and experienced Salesforce developers when there are many skilled administrators out there than can help an organization make better use of their original decision to buy rather than build.
© Scott S. Nelson