Balancing Act: Standardisation vs. Customisation in the Middle East’s Digital Boom

Balancing Act: Standardisation vs. Customisation in the Middle East's Digital Boom

Middle Eastern businesses face a challenge: leverage cutting-edge tech while maintaining efficiency. Explore the pros and cons of standardisation vs. customisation and how to find the right mix for growth.

In the Middle East’s vibrant business landscape, innovation knows no bounds. Organisations here are not merely dreamers; they are doers, and digital technologies lie at the heart of their endeavours. But pioneering innovation calls for a mastery of the delicate balance between leveraging standardised and customised systems. The former allows for the latest technologies to be rapidly rolled out, while the latter offers scope for the fine-tuning and finessing that is the hallmark of brands that go above and beyond. 

Pros and cons

Standard systems are tempting. They ensure that processes and data across an organisation are predictable and can absorb change because new systems will be similar and, therefore, compatible. Standard systems can be off-putting, though. They may not grant the flexibility required to grow on the business’s terms. 

Custom-built systems are also tempting. They offer the freedom to get things just right so that business use cases are 100% fulfilled. Processes and data formats are designed to meet whatever goals are in front of you. Custom-built systems can also be off-putting, though. Change management becomes trickier with the occasional need for a rip-and-replace or an expensive workaround because a new solution cannot talk to legacy products. 

A middle ground must be sought to ensure ongoing operational efficiency in a growing business, especially one that is about to venture into new markets. Otherwise, the enterprise will be unable to duplicate in new markets the factors that brought such innovation and competitiveness at home.


The challenges faced today by GCC businesses will influence the standardisation-customisation trade-off. The bigger your business gets at home and abroad, the more customer segments you will encounter. The same goes for overall market characteristics and regulatory frameworks. When a company makes a move abroad, many laws, trade agreements, IP protections, tax regulations, and industry standards may apply. This challenge calls for standardisation on the compliance side, with customisation to cater to local preferences. 

This dovetails neatly with cultural considerations, where different hierarchies, leadership styles, and employee expectations may prevail. Systems must be flexible enough to allow remote work and accommodate needs for centralisation, should they arise. The market may also determine the technology mix, with ERP, CRM, or BI systems having different levels of relevance depending on the geography and integrating systems to meet a local preference? Customise. Preserving the core functionality that makes the solution useful? Standardise. Meanwhile, customers, employees, and investors have their own needs that will require a mix of standardisation and customisation.

Cloud ERP allows for standardisation and customisation, offering core functionality and giving access to business intelligence, financial planning, ecommerce, and workflow automation. Cloud ERP also meets all stakeholders’ critical security and business-continuity requirements. Global enterprises use standardised and customised protocols, which can be found in the environments of the hyperscale providers that have launched cloud locations in the Middle East.

Balancing Act

And so, we solve the seemingly terrible trade-off. Too much standardisation can hold a growing business back. But too much customisation could do the same if organisational consistency is compromised across business units and locations. A cloud-based ERP suite gives the flexibility to continually adjust the mix, monitor the results, and react quickly. Balancing standardisation and customisation will bring a set of challenges unique to each global enterprise, but some strategies will be common to most.

1. Take stock

First, the enterprise must understand its current capabilities to gauge what challenges growth or expansion to new markets would bring to the business in its current form. Conduct a formal review that accounts for the roles of standardisation and customisation across business units. Assess your market position, quantify your competitive strengths, and revisit your customer segments. Consult your corporate mission. 

2. Define your destination

Where do you want to be, and how soon? Following your review, you will know where you are, allowing you to measure “distance” and understand the gaps that need to be bridged. 

3. Plot a course

The usefulness of roadmaps cannot be underestimated. The future success of the global enterprise is at stake. Therefore, it is prudent to be clear on how you are getting from where you are now to where you want to be and what objectives and actions are incumbent upon each stakeholder.

4. Govern decisively

Communicate the implementation strategy of standardisation and customisation clearly and ensure firm, experienced leaders are in place. The workforce should have buy-in, which means being informed of any new processes’ scope, objectives, and principles. Employees should also be made aware of their daily responsibilities and level of authority. They should be informed about agreed-upon metrics and how they will measure outcomes and maintain accountability.

Sure and Steady

These broad steps advise enterprises to move decisively without rushing in. Let information be your guide and never forget about the employees you are trying to empower, the customers you are trying to engage with, or the regulators you are trying to satisfy. The changes described here are significant. Work collaboratively and openly. Involve all relevant stakeholders in all decision-making about standardisation and customisation. If you move iteratively, you will build confidence among your people, who can advise you on further standardisation or customisation opportunities supported by the right cloud-based ERP system.