The Pros and Cons of PeopleSoft Bolt-ons versus Customization's

By Chris Malek | Tue, Jul 24, 2012

This article will highlight some of the pros and cons for and against bolt-ons in PeopleSoft.


For the purpose of this article we need to defined two terms so that everyone is on the same page.

  • Bolt-On: A custom application living inside of a PeopleTools/PeopleSoft database like HCM or Finance.
    • It is implemented with a completely new set of database tables and objects. Thus, it stands alone.
    • The bolt-on often integrates with the “host” application by reading data from tables or its APIs.
    • There is no (or very limited) modification of delivered objects/code.
  • Customization: A customization is when your PeopleSoft application is changed to accomplished some business process.
    • In a customization, the technical staff makes changes to delivered PeopleSoft pages, code, and other objects to accomplish the business requirement.

Pros of Bolt-ons

Here are some areas where there is a case for going with a bolt-on approach.

  • Bolt-ons are not generally impacted by upgrades and bundle applications. So you do not have to do extensive testing after these Oracle code changes are applied. You generally just have to test the integration points between the bolt-on and the delivered pieces.
  • You get software that works with the way your business works not the way Oracle thinks it should work. A bolt-on can work exactly the way you want it.
  • During an upgrade there is no chance your bolt-on objects will get deleted as stand alone objects are left untouched by default.

Cons of Bolt-ons

  • You do not get regulatory changes from Oracle Support.
    • For example, if you tried to create a bolt-on Payroll or Financial Aid application, you would need analysts to monitor the changing laws and make updates to your bolt-on where needed.
  • You need to have solid analysts and technical staff members that can gather business requirements and turn those into code.
  • There is an extra expense of creating something from scratch. Many people purchase vendor software because they want the software provider to handle the details.

Pros of Customization

  • You get added features of Upgrades and Bundle updates (also a con)

Cons of Customization

  • You get added features of Upgrades and Bundle updates (also a Pro)
    • Every time a bundle or upgrade is applied these objects may have to be looked at and re-applied which increases the cost of ownership.
  • A new feature or functionality may change your business process and require staff retraining. There is also a risk that the change in functionality will not work with your organization.
  • During upgrades and bundles installations, these customizations often clash with changes from Oracle Development and the customizations have to be reworked back into the changes from Oracle.

My General Rules

I am very prone to create bolt-ons for clients. I admit that I am biased because I can often create bolt-ons much faster than trying to figure out poorly documented or implemented code.

Here is my general thought process on using a vanilla solution versus a bolt-on.

  • Is there a delivered solution to the business problem?
    • If yes, then I take a look at the functionality and setup some demo data.
    • I will then review it with the stakeholders on how they would potentially use the delivered functionality to meet the business requirement. This includes setups, end user business processes, gaps, reports, etc.
    • I then gauge the reaction during the demo. Often times the users start asking for changes like: “can we change this? Can we add a field? Can we search a different way?” These are all red flags that they want to start customizing.
    • If the customer wants to customize, I start looking at the level of customization. If it is just minor changes like hiding a few fields and changing a label then I will probably lean toward customizing.
    • If the reaction in the demo is that we need x, y, z. Then I will lobby for a bolt-on as the savings generally will be greater in the long term.

I have found that these initial reactions to the delivered functionality are analogous to the visible piece of a floating iceberg. If there are a few changes showing at the outset then as the project goes along deeper, more changes will come to light. As the level of customization increases, the long term cost of ownership increases drastically. If your PeopleSoft installation keeps up to date on patches and upgrades every customization adds to the cost.

Making the customize versus bolt-on is more of an art than a science.

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Chris Malek

Chris Malek is a PeopleTools® Technical Consultant with two decades of experience working on PeopleSoft enterprise software projects. He is available for consulting engagements.

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