Debunking the myth of customization in the cloud


Richard Barrett

Content Creator

Although the momentum for migrating business applications to the cloud is increasing – especially so now that the larger legacy vendors with a vested interest in on premise deployments have accepted it as inevitable–there are still those who believe that using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution will compromise the flexibility they require to handle their customized data integration and reporting needs. Initially, data security was the big roadblock stopping enterprises from embracing the cloud. But now it is widely recognized that cloud providers have better and more up-to-date security protocols than comparable on premise systems, the debate around security has subsided and concerns about customization have come to the fore. But how much substance is there in the claim that moving to a SaaS solution in the cloud compromises the ability to customize?

SaaS solutions are designed for mass customization

Technically, customization means changing software code, something that customers occasionally required vendors of legacy on premise solutions to provide to cater for some esoteric (and often wildly eccentric) way of doing things. My view is that amending code was something that both vendor and customer would do best to avoid as it resulted in issues and additional expenses every time an upgrade came around. Except in extreme circumstances, where functionality provided an important competitive advantage, it was generally better to revise the process to fit in with the way the software worked.

Clearly, this type of technical customization is not possible in a SaaS environment where multiple tenants are sharing the same code. It would have to be provided as a hosted cloud solution, where it would require a higher level of IT support that would result in a higher cost of ownership. Thankfully, it is not that common. In my experience, when most people mention customization, the real question in the back of their minds is about configuration and how easy it is to adapt the software to the needs of their business. They are right to have concerns as some of the software available in the cloud started out as an on premise application with code that can be a decade or more old. But any software that was specifically designed for the cloud is built to be as flexible as possible, with native features that allow users to configure the application themselves, rather than needing to hire specialist consultants.

Checklist to ensure customizability

There is no better way of establishing whether the SaaS solution you are considering can be configured to your particular needs than having the vendor build you a prototype, preferably with some of your own people getting involved with the model building. These are the criteria you should be looking for:

  • The ease of adding user-defined fields to master data, such as adding attributes to GL accounts and vendor or customer records
  • Whether these user-defined fields can be easily added to queries and saved in searches and queries that can be shared with other users
  • The ease and speed of creating new reports and queries to suit your own reporting needs, such as the way you usually sort your accounts receivable balances, segment your customers, or create exception lists
  • How data is loaded from your transactional systems and how it is validated
  • Whether configuration changes are automatically applied to all subsidiaries – or if they can be selectively excluded

State of the art SaaS software designed for cloud delivery is part toolkit, part application engineered to give optimal flexibility to as many users as possible. It is how the business model works. While some SaaS vendors still list a portfolio of solutions, Anaplan has taken the toolkit approach to its logical conclusion with a single platform upon which users can quickly develop highly customized solutions for all lines of business making use of a growing collection of apps for common use cases that can be easily modified.