Aaron Reiter By Aaron Reiter • February 9, 2018

Debt Collection Software: The Customization Trap

4 Minute Read

Let's have fun with a humorous creative writing exercise today! The last blog post we released was on the topic of Buy vs. Build, and spoke to the perils of trying to reinvent a proverbial collection software wheel. Admittedly, that is a narrow population of the debt recovery market while a much larger demographic has a purchased platform they are continually modifying to meet their needs.

I have an analogous scenario I offer to illustrate the perils of investing in a software platform, then heavily modifying it to meet your business needs with custom code. Collection agencies and departments have been doing this for years with various platforms and it's horribly expensive. Here's the analogy I'll run through with you, and we're going to use cars - because I like cars and I'm the one writing this, so I get to choose. Don't worry if you're not a car person, this will still be funny and resonate with you, I promise!

In this story, you purchased a shiny new Honda Civic because you need something economical that gets you from point A to point B reliably. Soon, you want more speed, so you hire a mechanic referred to you by another Civic owner and spend several thousand dollars to add some power to the engine with custom mods. Then you decide your butt is really cold in the winter, so you pay that guy to add seat warmers. Next, you decide it isn't handling that additional speed around corners, so you invest in new wheels and tires. Suddenly, you have to upgrade the suspension because it wasn't just the tires that were the problem, but you didn't know that until you bought the new tires. You learn that your specialty mechanic is super busy, so that's gonna take several months, which sucks.

This version of you really loves singing along to Neil Diamond tunes and those factory speakers aren't doing his buttery voice justice. Off to Stereos-R-Us you go, but it turns out you can't just buy new speakers because the factory radio is too weak to power the new speakers. More money comes out for a new dash stereo - it looks totally weird with its touch screen and goofy universal mount, and sometimes it won't actually turn on for some reason, but most of the time it works and when it does, oh man, does Neil sound good.

One day, you pick up a client to go to lunch and they comment that they feel too exposed in your car, so you spend a pile of money tinting the windows and add an expensive alarm system for more security.  

Look! This debt collection software platform has a spoiler!.jpg

Boy, oh boy, is your Civic fancy now. It sounds cool, it looks fast just sitting there, and some other Civic owners even tell you how much they wish their Civic had a cool spoiler like yours.

You need a tune-up, so you call your trusted mechanic who installed all the modifications to your Civic and he tells you he's going to retire or take a job managing the McDonalds by the highway (you weren't really listening, all you could hear is the deafening noise of panic and abandonment)!

The thing is, your economical machine has grown to a massive investment of proprietary hacks and although those modifications all technically work, the base vehicle wasn't really designed for them. What's more, there is a limit to what you can get out of that beast because there's only so much you can do to its little frame before it fails. Even with all the mods, it can only go so fast before it's too scary and despite your massive investments, some of your prospects still wouldn't be caught dead riding in it. 

But you're so invested! And those custom mods do just what you think you want them to do! And you understand all of its idiosyncrasies, like how you have to jiggle the key a little bit when you start it. Or that you can't hit the gas too fast leaving a stop light because it might die. Or how you have to disconnect the battery twice a year so you can reset the dash clock. How can you possibly replace it? Could anything else possibly meet all of your custom needs?

First of all, it's only "custom", because the Civic you bought didn't come with the features you wanted as your needs grew and/or changed, and there were no factory-made additions designed to bolt on - Honda left that to the aftermarket. Your car's "custom" capabilities aren't unique to the car market, they're just unique to your car. You can get seat warmers and a sport suspension on another vehicle that was designed for them from the beginning.

OK, I've taken that pretty far and I'm getting carried away. Here's the deal, if you own your software because you built it, or you purchased a copy from a vendor, you own the problems you face with it. Upgrades and modifications are gonna hit your pocket book as custom coding. Updates are expensive, difficult to implement, and sporadic. Slow downs due to hardware problems fall on your shoulders. Catastrophic failures or security breaches are all on you and your expensive IT consultant.

Talk to other agency or department leaders, they will tell you many of the software vendors or developers they purchased their platform from make them feel like their ideas for improvements have never been done before in the 30 year history of the software vendor and they pay full freight on a "custom" solution. Despite your skepticism that you've just invented a new process or capability that seems obvious, you're gonna pony up for those mods if they're important to you.

By contrast, an open-architecture, web-based platform in a SaaS model can grow with your business, and users benefit from the requested feature additions of other clients on the platform every time the included software upgrades or updates are released (this should be monthly, by the way - not annually. Don't settle for annual bug fixes or feature additions, especially if you have to pay for them. That's dumb.)

Go ahead, start with the equivalent of that Civic, but instead of modding that framework to do things it was never designed to do, a SaaS model is set up to provide additional capabilities, speed, security, or integrations at the click of a button.

Think about it, that Civic turns into a Camry, a Tesla or an armored truck at the click of a button - and custom work is far less common because so many tools are already built in and available to the users. 

It's 2018, and technology has left that 1981 Civic behind. Explore your options before it's too hard to catch up.

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