We are often asked what is the difference between a software product and a solution accelerator such as Microsoft Stimulus360 or Microsoft Grants360. The distinction is important because confusing solution accelerators (also called templates or solutions) with products leads to unmet expectations.
All of us are familiar with software products such as Word, Excel or Outlook. These products contain features and do certain tasks for us. While they allow for some configuration and personalization of preferences, they essentially work the same way for all users. This is acceptable because word processing and email are largely similar for users in many industries. My Exchange and Outlook setup may be bigger or smaller than an organization, but essentially the user experience is the same.
Products usually come with prescriptions on how they are installed and configured, and this process is made as easy as possible. For some products. it is as simple as clicking a link, downloading and a couple of clicks later the product is installed.
Solution accelerators are more like tools than they are like products. In other words, instead of getting a table you are getting wood, hardware, and sometimes even a saw to cut the pieces to length. Grants360, for instance, provides a website for soliciting grant applications. The website works right out of the box, and a user can submit an application, but for a complete solution you need to do some analysis and customization. For instance, you would replace the logo in the sample with your organization's logo, replace the instructions with your instructions, and perhaps add new fields that are germane to the type of grant you are awarding.
Solution accelerators make sense for line of business applications which do not have universally consistent business rules or features. Grants for homeless shelters track different information from grants for cancer research or environment cleanup, so the solution accelerator approach allows the required tailoring. Microsoft Stimulus360, for instance, contained reports which met the requirements of the Office of Management and Budget for ARRA (stimulus) grants.
Custom reports are almost always needed for line of business solutions. Each manager likes to see data in a different way. Analyzing reporting needs also uncovers data fields that should be added to the solution.
A solution accelerator is a different approach than custom development, which offers nearly unlimited customization but is expensive, risky and time consuming. Solution accelerators fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, between off-the-shelf products and custom development.
If you choose a solution accelerator, you need to plan for services including requirements analysis, configuration, customization, training, and documentation. The effort required will be more than a typical product installation, but the work is required for line of business solutions if you want them to match the way your organization works.