Enterprise software–which is to say, software designed specifically to help businesses do the work businesses need to do (marketing, sales, finance, logistics, inventory management, etc.)–is complex. It typically has many moving parts, touches multiple functions of the organization, and, necessarily, puts guardrails in place to prevent people from doing things they shouldn’t.

Seems obvious enough. But it’s that last part that you need to pay attention to.

What does it actually mean that software has guardrails? And how are those guardrails implemented? Are they really guardrails or are they just restrictions? And what could the negative impact be on your business? On the cost of the software? On the productivity of your team?

The cop-out is to say “It’s complicated.” But is it? Really?

Here’s the TL;DR:

  • Guardrails are (or should be) logical controls that are put in place to prevent a user from doing something they shouldn’t.
  • This can be configurations, permissions, customizations, temporary restrictions, etc.
  • Whether they are useful or not really depends on how they impact your productivity and your costs.
  • If they are not identified and managed before you implement, they could be incredibly costly for your business, especially if they inhibit your current–or projected future–operational structure and practice.
  • Depending on how the separation of responsibilities is modeled in the software, it could end up costing you money over and above the agreed contract price if you need to add on, upgrade, or increase license counts simply to accommodate new user responsibilities. Note that we are NOT talking about adding net new users. We are talking about getting more permissions or more licenses for EXISTING users just to accommodate their needs.
  • All of this can impact productivity by causing choke points while you’re waiting to get new users or licenses in place; preventing the right user from doing the right work simply because they don’t have adequate permissions; causing rework to be done to correct mistakes made by users without adequate knowledge of the right processes; and/or increasing the frustration index by having to deal with seemingly pointless slowdowns.

It’s about control

It goes without saying that organizations need control over what individual users can do inside enterprise systems. Many businesses need separation between roles to protect the integrity of the data. But that should be at the discretion of the company. That should be based on internal needs and internal process decisions, not some arbitrarily rigid permissions model. 

But what happens when those roles become a way for a software provider to segment your costs without the flexibility you need for your team? What happens when you have people on your operations team that wear multiple hats? What happens when you need temporary coverage across roles because of illness, attrition, or any one of a number of possibilities?

If your software isn’t designed to seamlessly manage changing needs, typically, bad stuff happens.

This can be all the more acute for smaller companies, whether just starting up or rapidly moving into growth mode. Most people on your team wear multiple hats; some of them wear all the hats. And you don’t want your software telling them they have to stay in their lane or else buy an extra license, log into another account, or pay extra to get more permissions. 

So the question is, who has the control? If it’s not you, you have a problem.

Flexibility is the name of the game

Software is powerful precisely because it has the potential to be incredibly flexible. Should it be infinitely flexible? Absolutely not. That’s just crazy. But should it artificially restrict your team from getting their work done simply because your team doesn’t fit the industry-accepted status quo? Well, no. That is also crazy. 

We believe your software shouldn’t tell you how many lanes to swim in or what hats to wear; that’s your job. Software is best when it is designed to support your needs in a structured, optimized way. Does that mean it’s a free-for-all? Nope. We have rules, just like you. We have studied our users’ needs and constantly make decisions and revisions based on optimizing behaviors, activities, processes, and workflows. Just like you. But if you need to manage Finance on Monday, logistics on Thursday, and compliance every day, you should be able to do that without blinking. 

No one knows how your business works better than you do, and how it works today might not be how it works tomorrow. In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet that, at some point, you’re operations will make one (or many) radical shifts to accommodate growth, opportunity, or challenges. When that happens, the tools you use need to be able to support that without a lot of effort or extra cost. If it can’t, it isn’t flexible enough. 

What to look for

While it can be different things for different businesses, there are at least a few primary indicators if you’re selecting software that can adapt to your changing environment:

  • It shouldn’t need to be customized to even get close to a workable permissions scheme
  • It should rely heavily on configurations that can turned on and off at any point for both the organization and individual users
  • It should have roles based on large categories of user-type, rather than many, many sub-roles inside each functional area
  • It should be pushing updates to features and functionality at least quarterly to account for emerging needs and trends in the market
  • Its pricing models should be clear and based on the lowest number of variables possible 
  • It should understand your industry deeply, and it should understand software even better

If you need the industry’s best software for your value chain, and you don’t want to be told how you can’t use it, reach out and let us know