Solution Planning: Out-of-the-Box vs. Add-Ons vs. Custom

Introduction

This post outlines key points to consider when designing an App for SharePoint.  We have different customers each with unique skill sets.  The same requirements may not be met with the same solution for different customers.

The right solution for any customer is dependent on the skills they have available.

Remove Complexity

In any case, identifying the complexity of the solution is an important and first step.  Simplifying can help remove the need for customization and lower the skillset required to support and maintain the solution.  

  • To begin with, challenge technically complex requirements that don't present strong ROI
  • Identify the remaining technically complex components that are of high risk
    • Identify who will make the decision to go ahead with features that technically risky
  • As soon as solution development begins, prove out the technically risky areas as soon as you can

What can your Client Support

Consider what your customers are able to implement and support in their business and IT environments when planing a solution. 

  • Consider the skill sets available to your eventual solution owners from development through to sustainment. 
  • In some cases, decision makers may see the value of taking a risk if the solution offers great ROI. 
  • In planning solutions clearly identify aspects of the solution which increase the costs of ownership.

Build vs. Buy

Third party solutions have their place in planing solutions.  For some customers, third party solutions are preferred as they can rely on vendors for support - instead of their internal or contact resources.

  • Does your customers have an inherit preference to buy software or build it?
  • If your customer doesn't have the team to support even low levels of customization, their solution options are more limited:
    • Use Out of the Box Features / Low customization
    • Supplement Out of the Box Features with Third Party Solutions

When to Consider Customization

Customization has become a dirty word for some of our customers.  Other customers aren't opposed to customization at all.  We believe there is a balance, the ROI of a customization can be used to determine its value to the business.

  • Discuss your client's approach to SharePoint customizations
  • If a vendor is hired to supplement the skills to deliver a solution - consider how the solution will be supported and maintained in the long term.
  • The topic of customization in SharePoint is large - our guiding principles are:
    • Use customizations as sparing as possible
    • Keep customizations as simple as you can
    • Document and communicate customizations to their owners

Summary

There is no simple answer to this question.  Each customer has a different attitude towards the types of solutions that best fit into their SharePoint deployment. 

The better you understand the requirements, benefits and attitudes of your customer, the more likely you are to plan a solution that is valuable, easy to support and own.