Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The risks of unsupported customizations in MS CRM

It is sometimes tempting to perform a customization to the CRM organization which is not supported by Microsoft, but is the gain worth the risk? I am personally an advocate against any kind of unsupported customizations, even if they seem “safe”, and here are some reasons why:

1. Risk of losing the customization when an update is installed or when the server is upgraded:
When a customization is not officially supported by Microsoft CRM, it is always possible that when you install a Update Rollup (or hotfix), the customization will stop working. Updates for CRM are released almost every couple of months so that means that multiple times a year you have the risk of your unsupported customizations to stop working. Additionally, when upgrading to a newer version of the software, it is even more likely that your customizations are lost. You might think that “losing the customizations” might not be a big deal, but when a customer and the users of a CRM system are used to a certain customization and they see it disappear from one day to the next, you will must certainly receive a support call which might end up costing you very expensive. Users are often frustrated when things change without notice so you have to mind the user satisfaction too.

2. Risk of failures when applying an update or upgrade
Some unsupported customizations, such as directly editing the CRM database will most likely fall into this category. I have seen customers go through hell because they are not able to apply a hotfix or upgrade their environment due to the number of unsupported customizations they have deployed. At that moment, it will be quite expensive to identify all the unsupported customizations and somehow convert them to a supported equivalent (sometimes not even possible) so you will be stuck with a “corrupt” environment that you cannot upgrade. In some cases you will need to completely re-deploy CRM from scratch, migrate data and import the supported customizations because getting rid of unsupported customizations is not always doable without restarting from scratch. This will certainly cost you a lot of money in the long run.

3. Customers are usually willing to compromise if they are able to see the risk in unsupported customizations
This is perhaps the most disregarded and important aspect of unsupported customizations. If a customer asks you for a customization that is unsupported in CRM, it is most likely because they don’t know that it is unsupported or they do not understand the risk of unsupported customizations. You need to make sure you take the time to explain to the customer why their requirement would be unsupported, what would be the risks and what supported alternatives you can offer instead (even if they do not meet 100% the requirement). Most customers are reasonable and don’t want to take the risk of unsupported customizations so once this is clear to them, they will accept using a supported alternative (if available) or maybe living without the requirement. Customers usually do not want their IT department to be spending time and money on a recurring basis to fix problems they can avoid in the first place. Neither will they want to call you if you have explicitly limited your responsibility on unsupported customizations as that will cost them money too. However, if you deliver an unsupported customization without having the discussion with the customer, then believe me, they will call you back to fix the problem for free.

4. Limited support from the CRM community and Microsoft support
If your environment has unsupported customizations and you encounter a problem (even if it looks unrelated to your unsupported customizations) you will find that the usual support channels might not be able to help you. The CRM community (such as forums and online groups) as well as the official Microsoft support might point out that you have unsupported customizations that you need to get rid of before having an accurate diagnosis on your problem.

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