We have been extolling the virtues of a number of add-ons to Microsoft Dynamics NAV recently (Zetadocs, TargIT and Three X Mobile Solutions). Last week I was warning a potential client of the danger of buying a system that relied on add-ons. Sales person hypocrisy, no doubt you cry! Well no, it is different as not all add-ons are equal.

At TVision we recommend very few add-ons. Those that we do must genuinely extend the value of NAV. For example, Zetadocs takes NAV documents and converts to PDFs; TargIT is the Certified for Dynamics solution that provides Business Intelligence (it recognises the NAV data-structures and has all the pretty dashboard graphics); Three X integrates mobile devices to the NAV system for deliveries and field service. These products all extend the NAV offering rather than attempt to re-code it. In the worse case scenario, if support for one of these products became an issue (we doubt it will, otherwise we would not have signed as a partner) they could easily be swapped out without impacting on the core business processes.

Competitors use add-ons in one of two ways. Firstly is a pet hate: they demonstrate an add-on rather than their core product. Often the add-on could be implemented with any of the products on the short-list, a fact the salesperson will keep to themselves. Secondly where add-ons are required to provide the required business functionality that the unsuspecting customer assumes is standard software. Does it matter? With the former it just means that people aren’t given the opportunity to evaluate that which they have asked to see; difficult to judge the effect of this but it would be fair to wonder why this approach is adopted. With the latter, the danger is that the customer assumes that all which is true about the standard product is true of what they have been shown.

These days evaluating fit of standard (or “vanilla”) product has become more important. A more educated buyer (and most are) knows that the more standard the solution, the easier it will be to implement and support. This is not to say that add-ons are bad, just that buyer should be aware and feel that the business benefit of the add-on justifies the additional complexity. TVision’s own add-on for recruitment agencies (Agency Time) is an example where the business benefit out weighs the risk; it helps that for this very specific industry requirement there is nothing offered as standard by the big players.

Some add-ons are easy to support. For example, with NAV, source code is loaded on the customer server so unless the add-on has been encrypted, it is as supportable as the standard product (incidentally, this is why we do not encrypt any changes we make to software, our clients stay with us due to our customer service not because they’re locked in). But what if the add-on can only be supported by the ISV (Independent Software Vendor) who developed it? All of a sudden the big name system the customer thought they had invested in becomes as problematic as if they had bought from a niche player. Overly dramatic? Well not if the business critical process is reliant on the add-on. Support calls and change requested all have to be sent on to the developer and can not be dealt with effectively by the whole partner network. Upgrades can be problematic, especially as the core product will not be developed with the add-on in mind.

Last weekend I had a lovely time motorcycling around Wales with my husband. The first day was fraught due to a number of issues with his Buell, these all stem from him replacing the stock exhaust with a non-standard version. My bulk standard Kawaksaki suffered no problems at all. Husband would argue that the additional grief is worth it for the engine note now produced. Personally I like the easy life, especially when adding noise really isn’t a critical benefit.