All businesses are not the same, but they’re not all that different.

Marketers and agencies alike are trained to ‘spot the difference. To differentiate their brands and associated campaigns as much as possible to stand out from the crowd and reach customers and prospects in new and exciting ways. And while it is this talent for creating unique user experiences that has taken the most successful to where they are today; in a business sense, and from a digital perspective, when it comes the web it can often be this same perception of individuality that prevents ongoing innovation.

Companies can find benefit in what has been done for many rather than reinventing the wheel every time. And customisation for customisation’s sake is often just not worth it. In the short term you might appear to be doing yourself a favour, but in the long term, no matter what technology you’re using, extensive customisation will limit innovation, stifle your ability to achieve ROI and increase costs across the board. Remember for every customised system there has to be somebody there to support that particular version.

Looking at digital design and development from both the supplier’s side and the client’s side, sometimes when you’re asked to customise you’re hurting your business more than you think. The effort required for that extra 5% is much greater than if you took the standard approach, and the long term impact of that customisation is far more dramatic as well. In essence, it costs you more and it’s difficult to upgrade. You can’t innovate a highly customised system at the same pace as you would be able to across a system that is more standardised, maintenance is more difficult and you as the user won’t continue to receive the ongoing innovation you need to keep up. And what happens when your business changes with the marketplace and you need to change? You’re starting from scratch all over again.

This is all assuming your budget is finite. If you don’t care about scalability or your position on the learning curve and you have all the time, resources and money to throw at bespoke projects then go on ahead. Wouldn’t the rest of us like to know how you do it! If you’re one of the many however, it may be worth asking yourself: can I change or alter the concept to accommodate the technology without extensive customisation, or do I want to attempt to change the technology to accommodate the concept?

I meet people all the time who are constantly coming up with new campaigns to try and reach their targets. Fantastic. Develop the concept (let’s call it an online competition), plan the who, what, which, when and why, build an all new website to manage that competition, and then… when it’s all said and done, tear down the website and never use it again. Why not create that competition on a flexible system that allows you to reuse?

I liken this to the implementation of new systems in business. Having been involved in many large scale development projects over the years, I’ve seen the impact of attempting to change systems to fit the business, and the costs that these changes have. And when looking back in hindsight it is often easier to introduce new processes to suit the new system coming in.

Helpful questions I like to ask myself are:

What is the outcome I want from the technology?

  • What is the return I’m looking for in relation to that outcome?

  • How best can I deliver that with minimal impact to the business and at a fair cost?

And then be willing to accept that if necessary, I may have to change processes in my businesses to accommodate.

There is a long term cost associated with taking a short term view of new technology, and it is important to consider the longer term ramifications that may hinder your ability to continue to innovate and continue to stand out from the crowd as you do so well. Unless its vanilla you’re going to encounter challenges along the way. The question is, can you vary the impact of these challenges on your business? Bump in the road or full blown obstacle in your path to success. Your choice.

My advice to businesses attempting to streamline and achieve maximum ROI is to accept that there are similarities across business models, and try and make the most of them. The reality is, you can achieve the best economies of scale when you’re dealing with a specialist supplier who can do this for many clients rather than a single developer who has to research and learn.