Look For Configurable Software in Pharma, Not Customized Software – Here’s Why

Configurable Software

If you are shopping for software, be careful what you ask for. If you ask for a custom feature or capability and the vendor says yes, it will probably end up being a bad thing. Trust me, I know. I have been in hundreds of those discussions over more than three decades – customization is not your friend.

The Software Customization Challenge

Let me explain the usual scenario. You have found the best vendor with a great application that meets 98% of your needs. But you are the customer, after all, so you push the vendor to commit to building a new feature or capability to make it a 100% match.

The vendor knows that saying yes is a bad idea. A REALLY bad idea. But they want your business, so they say yes. You win, right?

Not really. It may seem that in the world of software applications, a customized solution that meets your exact needs is the holy grail. As the customer, you want software that fits your exact needs and will let you continue operating as you do today.

But the reality is that “customs,” as they are called on the vendor side, cause a litany of problems down the line. That’s because when you customize software, you introduce unique features that haven’t been, and will not be, used by thousands of other users. These features haven’t been exposed to the myriad situations that the product’s standard features have.

Let’s think about a parallel example, buying a new car. Even though you might want a special capability – let’s say four-wheel drive on a car that only comes in two-wheel drive – you would never agree to have it built just for you. Delivery would be delayed, the capability would not be proven by millions of miles of use, and no one would know how to service your car. Alternatively, the standard features in your car have been honed and perfected over years of use by millions of drivers: they are reliable, safe, and well-supported.

The same principle applies to software. Custom features may seem perfect for your needs but come with significant risks. They haven’t been vetted by a broad user base, meaning they may have hidden bugs or performance issues.

Moreover, customizations can create significant issues when it comes to software upgrades. Standard software products regularly receive updates to improve functionality, enhance security, and fix bugs. However, if your software has been customized, these standard upgrades can introduce compatibility issues. Your custom features might not work well with the new version, causing system crashes or loss of functionality. This can leave your system vulnerable or necessitate expensive and time-consuming re-customization. Essentially, what was intended to streamline operations can cause more headaches down the road.

Think Configuration, Not Customization

The best software is highly configurable, not customizable. Configurability means the software can be adapted to your needs without changing the application code. Instead, adjustments are made through parameters and settings within the software. Using the car example, some cars have adjustable shock absorbers, which allow the driver to determine the stiffness of the ride through a setting. The change is controlled by a parameter, not a change in the vehicle’s structure.

Configurability maintains the integrity of the software while providing the flexibility needed for individual situations. Configurable software allows changes specific to a situation but leverages the stability and reliability of standard features, ensuring that changes are robust and thoroughly tested.

For instance, imagine a configurable Quality Management System (QMS) like Scigeniq’s. Instead of custom-coding a new module to handle a unique business process, a configurable QMS allows you to adjust workflows, data fields, and user permissions. These adjustments are safe because they operate within the bounds of the standard software, ensuring compatibility with future updates.

At Scigeniq, we never customize our applications for one customer. If a customer needs a specific capability, we add it to the core system and make it available for everyone, often as a configurable feature. This way, all our customers benefit from rigorously tested and broadly supported enhancements. Focusing on configurability rather than customization ensures that our software remains reliable, maintainable, and scalable.

Look for Safe, Reliable, Configurable Software

Custom capabilities designed just for your organization seem appealing because they promise a perfect fit for your unique needs. However, the risks associated with custom features—such as limited testing, upgrade issues, and increased maintenance—far outweigh the benefits. Conversely, configurable software provides a safer, more reliable alternative that ensures flexibility without sacrificing stability. At Scigeniq, we are committed to providing highly configurable solutions that address our customers’ needs because we know that, in the longer term, customizations are neither your nor our friend.