Finding the right enrollment and administration solution for your organization can be difficult. There are a lot of options out there, and companies describe their offerings in different ways, making it challenging to make an informed decision.
‘Integration,’ ‘configuration,’ ‘SaaS,’ customization,’ and ‘platform solution’ are just a few of the terms you’ll see, and they can be confusing if you don’t have a technical background.
The two terms we’re tackling in this blog are ‘custom’ and ‘configurable.’ They may sound straightforward, but what do they really mean for your business?
Distinction without a difference?
When one of us on the Genius Avenue team researches a potential partner or reviews a new product to offer on our platforms, we run into the same obstacles that you do. Loosely described products, poorly defined terminology, and difficult-to-understand business models. These are communication issues, and they plague most complex industries, especially the insurance and benefits space.
We’ve found that two of the biggest poorly defined terminology offenders are ‘configuration’ and ‘customization.’ They’re used as throwaway marketing buzzwords; and even worse, they’re often used interchangeably.
But just because these terms are used in marketing shouldn’t suggest they don’t mean anything. They do. And just because they’re used interchangeably shouldn’t suggest they’re the same. They aren’t.
There’s a distinction with a difference between the two concepts, and choosing the wrong one can set you down a path you didn’t intend to follow.
Choosing the right enrollment and administration partner is such a vital component of any benefit or insurance offering that it’s critical to know precisely what you’re looking at and what you’re paying for.
With some key background information, you can make an informed decision.
Customization: What does it really mean?
Using the word ‘custom’ adds a special veneer to a product. It means you’re getting something bespoke, made just for you and your purposes. It’ll do everything you need it to, and nothing you don’t, because it was made with your product’s unique needs in mind.
That’s largely true. There are significant pros to going the custom route for your solution, but there are also some important cons to consider.
Let’s first dive into the pros.
Pros: What do you get?
It really is what it sounds like: custom, meaning you get a solution designed to your exact specifications, built to match your products and the needs of your customer base.
If your chosen provider is worth their salt, they’ll analyze your needs, along with your wants, and come up with the right approach.
Exclusivity – your solution will be yours and yours alone. You’re not getting a version of a publicly available or off-the-shelf product; it’s truly unique to your organization.
If you choose a reputable provider, you’ll get some level of post-build support to ensure your solution continues to be exactly what you need.
On its face, that’s a pretty great list of features. It sounds tough to beat; and in some cases, it may be the right choice. But before deciding, you’ll need to consider the downsides.
Cons: What aren’t you getting?
- Speed – custom can mean from the ground up. Existing components will often be used to create your solution, but by and large there will be a big development effort, and that takes time.
- Cost – by the nature of the undertaking, you’ll often be looking at a steep development price tag. Analyzing, ideating, iterating, coding, testing, and documenting are all time-consuming and therefore expensive. You may also end up needing special technical infrastructure to support your custom solution, which could mean dedicated hosting servers and other ongoing maintenance expenses.
- Learning Curve – new means untested and, as such, most custom providers have a team to help you learn how to use your new build. When your Customer Service, Billing, Admin, and Sales groups begin trying to learn the new system, you’ll quickly see how much you need that service to avoid getting bogged down by human error and misunderstanding.
Configuration: What does it really mean?
If ‘off-the-shelf’ (meaning an inflexible, ‘it is what it is’ product) is on one side of the spectrum, and ‘custom’ is on the other, configuration lies somewhere in the middle (a little closer to ‘custom’ than ‘off-the-shelf’).
When you choose configuration, you’re choosing a provider that offers a solution with several options that you can turn off and turn on according to the needs of your business or product. It’s existing software built for a versatile purpose, and through the smart deployment of various features, it can be shaped into the exact solution that works for you, your product, and your customers.
Compared to the list of cons for custom builds, this sounds promising, right? Well, it is. But again, it’s not without its downsides.
First, let’s look at the upsides.
Pros: What do you get?
- Most of what you want – the beauty of configuration is that it often has the available features you need.
- Speed – in contrast to a ground-up build, this solution just requires tweaking and adjustment and it’s ready to go.
- Cost – since it can be designed and deployed quickly, costs are usually much more manageable, and can even be competitive with off-the-shelf pricing. Also, since the product is more widely available, it may allow you to host your solution in the cloud or via your provider’s infrastructure, which can reduce monthly costs and make updates and patches automatic.
- Time tested – a configurable system has been through its paces, and (if you’ve chosen a quality partner) it just works, without a lot of training or tweaking.
Again, configuration sounds like it’s the perfect answer to all the downsides of a custom build. But there are always tradeoffs.
Cons: What aren’t you getting?
Exactly what you want – usually, configurable systems will have what you need, but sometimes they won’t. That tradeoff makes them faster and more affordable, but it can sometimes mean the solution won’t be a 100% match.
Decisions, decisions: Splitting the difference
With this information in hand, it’s important to consider the specific sales, enrollment, and administrative needs of your product or business. Do you truly need a custom enroll and admin system? Do you have the time and money for a custom build? Can you find a configurable solution that meets your exact needs, or can you do without some features?
It can be a tough choice, but not one you necessarily need to make. There’s another, less common, option.
The third 0ption
It’s called hyper-configuration, and what it does is bridge the gap between customization and configuration to keep the benefits and weed out a lot of the downsides.
Think of it this way: Custom will dependably get you what you want, but it’s slow and costly. Configurable is going to be a lot faster by comparison and cheaper, but it’s limited in choice and isn’t necessarily going to get you everything you want.
Hyper-configuration, on the other hand, has so many possible options that it gets you drastically closer to your end goal than standard configuration does. Then, if there’s still distance left to go, you have a development team that can create the customization you need.
This option may not be the right answer for your business, though, and it can sometimes be difficult to find a company that provides a hyper-configurable solution. This is because, in order to have a solution that meets the definition, you need to have an overabundance of configuration options, in-house client-facing software development, and the necessary experience to combine those attributes effectively.
S.E.A. Advantage is one such platform; and even though it’s not appropriate for every situation, we’ve packed a lot of excellent features (over 750 configuration options) into it, without a lot of downsides (in our humble opinion). You get speed, lower costs, the features you need (including customized features when necessary), scalability, and lifetime support.
We have a lot of content here where you can learn about what we can do for your business.
The bottom line
Whatever you decide to do, we hope this blog has been informative enough to help you cut through some of the marketing mumbo-jumbo and make the right decision for your business. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us.