Config vs Custom in SaaS: Navigating the AI Landscape for Sustainable Growth

Table of Contents

The Overcoding Conundrum in SaaS Environments

In an era where Salesforce and ServiceNow dominate the SaaS landscape, a pressing concern has emerged from the core of digital strategy discussions—overcoding and technical debt generation. This phenomenon, characterized by excessive reliance on custom coding over out-of-the-box (OOTB) functionality, presents a significant challenge for organizations striving to maintain agile, efficient, and forward-compatible systems. 

Our latest research reveals that 17% of the Salesforce and ServiceNow environments we analyzed were excessively customized, with 12% experiencing significant issues due to deviations from standard, out-of-the-box configurations. 

My recent dialogue with a Salesforce executive in the iconic Salesforce Tower in London shed light on this issue, revealing growing apprehension among industry leaders about the shift towards more complex coding practices. Traditional developers, with their propensity for code over configuration, are inadvertently crafting SaaS environments that are challenging to manage and resistant to future innovation.

 

The Compounding Challenges of Overcoding in SaaS 

The repercussions of this shift extend beyond mere operational inefficiencies. Complex maintenance requirements, difficulty in diagnosing issues, and barriers to integrating new functionalities or onboarding entities all stem from over-coding. At Quality Clouds, our observations confirm a troubling trend: Salesforce and ServiceNow instances become burdened with convoluted configurations and excessive code. The financial and operational toll on companies is palpable, with significant investments directed towards “getting back to the box” initiatives to simplify these bloated systems.

 

The Citizen Developer Phenomenon with AI: A Double-Edged Sword  

Compounding the challenge is the rise of the Citizen Developer, empowered by Generative AI (GenAI) tools that translate natural language into code. This democratization of development, while innovative, introduces risks if left ungoverned. Without oversight, the proliferation of code generated by non-expert developers can exacerbate the issues of overcoding, leading to a landscape where managing and maintaining SaaS solutions becomes even more daunting.

Similarly, the attraction of democratizing workflows is undeniable. It promises agility, innovation, and the empowerment of non-technical staff. However, this expansion comes with significant risks if not properly managed:

  • Citizen developers’ creation of hundreds of workflows can result in a tangled web of processes that take more work to oversee. 
  • Performance degradation of the SaaS platform and delays in achieving business outcomes are just the tip of the iceberg. 
  • The lack of control and oversight can transform these well-intentioned workflows into liabilities, undermining the efficiency and agility they enhance.

Steering Towards Development Governance and Strategic Oversight  

Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort towards governance and strategic oversight. As organizations embrace AI, LLMs (Large Language Models), and GenAI within their SaaS platforms, establishing a framework for regular code reviews becomes paramount. Such reviews, aimed at identifying and eliminating unnecessary custom code, are essential in maintaining the balance between innovation and operability.

Moreover, the governance of citizen developers is critical in ensuring that the democratization of development does not lead to unmanageable complexity. By implementing policies, guidelines, and review mechanisms, organizations can harness the potential of citizen developers while mitigating the risks associated with unchecked code generation and workflow expansion.

Navigating the Future with Prudence and Vision

I advocate for a future where SaaS technology serves as a catalyst for growth rather than an impediment. The journey toward sustainable digital expansion demands vigilance, governance, and a commitment to the best software development and deployment practices. By addressing the challenges of overcoding, managing the rise of citizen developers, and carefully governing the democratization of workflows, organizations can confidently navigate the evolving SaaS landscape using AI, ensuring their digital infrastructure remains robust, agile, and aligned with their strategic vision.

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Albert Franquesa
Albert Franquesa is an experienced IT professional, CEO and founder with over 20 years of experience in the software development industry. Starting as a developer at IBM, he quickly moved to Deutsche Bank to run application development related projects. At GFT, he set up the ServiceNow business unit in 2011, marking the start of his SaaS experience.

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