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What is Flexible Technology? (Flexible vs. Rigid Technology)

What is Flexible Technology

What is Flexible Technology?

In software, a flexible technology solution is one that supports easy adaptation of the system to meet future requirements and changes through configuration, rather than new development. Flexible technology is underpinned by a low-code approach that allows for high levels of customization and agility without having to develop new code, which can otherwise lead to technical debt, rising costs for maintenance and an inability to adapt to business needs.

Flexible technology meets the demands for highly configurable and cost-effective solutions from implementation, through to management and maintenance. This is in contrast to rigid solutions where it is expected that, although there is likely to be a degree of customization in implementation, changes to the underlying functionality and supported work processes within the system will not be ongoing and will largely be fixed once live. Rigid technology solutions are therefore rooted in the culture of a ‘one-time’ fix – we have a problem, we fix that problem and then we move to the next problem.

On the other hand, given the complexity of the relationships between enterprises and suppliers, it is especially important today in the world of best-of-breed procurement technology, as it is imperative that software vendors can empower business users to take control, in order to meet evolving requirements that can change frequently.

Keep reading to find out about:

  1. Moving away from the idea of a one-time fix
  2. Rigid technology solutions in the context of Procurement
  3. What to look for in flexible technology solutions
  4. The case for rigid vs flexible technology

Moving away from the idea of the one-time fix

Organizations need to move away from the mindset that there’s such a thing as a ‘one-time fix’ that can be put in place and forgotten about. If they do fall into such habits, they may find that what was a perfect solution when first implemented quickly starts to require changes. And inevitably, with changes come associated costs.

From the point of view of software vendors, the ideal situation is for a client to buy their system, install it and run it straight out of the box. This approach doesn’t require any customization or have any bespoke requirements, meaning all the vendor has to do is sell it. An alternative to this is to implement a solution that is customized to meet the customer’s requirements at point of sale, while hoping that there won’t be any need to make changes for a sustained period of time.

Every organization has different internal processes that make it difficult to simply implement something out of the box that will meet all of their needs, which is why the first approach is limiting. For example, a business that grows quickly through acquisition is trying to integrate all of its new business units, and the different processes each one has, under one central system. This is going to be an unenviable challenge as even in the same sector, and within very similar businesses, workflow and internal processes can vary hugely for any number of reasons.

The second methodology has a greater chance of initial success, as it takes the client’s needs into account and can be useful in certain scenarios.

Let’s take a look at the differences between flexible technology and rigid technology.

What is a rigid solution?

Even though rigid technology still plays a role in the procurement world, for example when it comes to transactional processes, such as Procure-to-Pay (P2P), where a fixed process is firmly established, if organizations use the same route when it comes to wider applications for Supplier Information Management, then they have to be prepared for challenges further down the line. This problem can be exacerbated if there is also a lack of clarity about what exactly the client’s requirements are from the outset.

As experienced Project Manager Dalip Mahal puts it, “one of the root causes behind inflexible software is starting a software project before the requirements are complete and consistent enough. If you are forced to start building with incomplete and inconsistent requirements, then you will end up with an insufficient core architecture. The insufficient architecture will lead to failed projects and/or inflexible software that you will curse for years.”

While smaller companies may be able to operate within the confines of a rigid solution, the same can’t be said for larger corporations that are likely to have many different departments and countless workflows that are constantly changing. Even so, mid to large-size companies and those that have operations in different countries with suppliers, have generally opted to invest in blue ribbon software solutions that are deemed as being safe and reliable to use.

The problem with this approach is that the need for changes in the future often isn’t taken into account, which creates issues given that change is inevitable and can happen suddenly, rather than gradually.

Flexible technology solutions: things to consider

While flexible technology solutions are more adaptable than rigid technology, there are factors companies have to consider to make sure they select the right software vendor to meet their needs and avoid surprises in the future.

It’s crucial to do as much research as possible, ensure that RFIs/RFPs are detailed, to question the vendors on specific aspects the organization requires and how they can meet potential future needs. Ideally, a detailed conversation will occur in order to make sure that each party understands the other’s expectations.

On this point, subject matter expert Jean-Grégoire Manoukian says, “Responsible software vendors, those that genuinely care about the future wellbeing of their clients, offer a level of flexibility that fully addresses client needs, without creating a situation where it leads to harmful use of the software system. This means taking the time to have a conversation and understanding the underlying challenges that users want to address.”

Aside from doing a detailed analysis of who the best software vendor is for the organization, it is also important to be realistic in terms of expectations. Just because every technology solution has labeled itself as a ‘flexible solution that is the ideal situation for your business’, it doesn’t mean that is necessarily true. Thorough research should weed out those vendors who aren’t able to meet certain requirements, but it is also worth talking to analysts and industry experts such as Spend Matters who can offer advice.

Companies should also consider using time-limited, paid-for proof-of-concepts (POC). These allow organizations to get a real idea of how quickly a software vendor can achieve what they are promising. Naturally, as this is only a POC stage, it is better to ask for them to meet specific requirements rather than trying to build an entire solution. Time limitations are a crucial aspect because otherwise anyone can claim to be able to quickly meet any needs.

The cost will also always be an important factor when making a decision. Organizations have to consider how much any potential system will cost you over the long term – flexible or rigid.

Flexible technology vs. rigid technology solutions – a shifting market

“A company’s unrealistic expectations regarding the total cost of ownership is often the first domino to fall in an ERP failure. This leads to failure because companies end up cutting corners on activities that are critical success factors. Inaccurately estimating ERP project costs is more common than you might think. In fact, ERP vendors typically outline a one-dimensional estimate of implementation costs. These estimates often fail to include hidden expenses, like internal resources, external consultants and hardware upgrades.”

This quote from Panorama Consulting Group sums up the issues that commonly plague implementations of rigid systems such as ERP software and procurement suites – a failure to clarify expectations, which leads to greater costs. Although these large software vendors are here to stay, if only due to the fact that they are established brand names and have advertising budgets that can continue to support them, the market is beginning to recognize the value of more specialized best-of-breed and flexible technology solutions.

The latest innovation in digital procurement are best-of-breed systems which are cloud-based and data-driven. They complement the traditional transactional procurement suites widely used across the world and allow organizations to capture the business case in specific categories, which enables them to shift their focus towards new initiatives. Find out more about the benefits of Best-of-Breed systems here.

Article updated January 2022

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