Membership CRM Platform or Package solution. What's the difference?

Benefits of Microsoft Dynamics & Power Apps for your membership organisation

In this article we will discuss the benefits of using a platform solution for your Membership CRM Database and the strengths and weaknesses compared to the two other types of solution available, namely a bespoke solution and a packaged (off the shelf) solution.

Bespoke solution

A bespoke solution (otherwise known as a custom solution) is where a provider will develop your membership CRM database from their own in-house (proprietary) solution. The provider will go through a discovery process to understand your requirements and customise their solution to meet your exact requirements. A bespoke solution can also be developed in stages allowing you to take a phased approach to the project.

The drawback with a bespoke solution is that you are limited to the functionality the developers are able to create and you are also tied to those developers as other providers may not be able to support the system.

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Open Source

An Open-Source solution is similar to a bespoke solution but is based on a pre-built system with certain basic CRM functions already included, which often reduces cost as certain features do not need to be custom built. The provider will go through a discovery process to understand your requirements and customise the Open Source solution to meet your requirements, within the limits of the platform.

The drawbacks of an Open Source solution is that the developers are more limited than a completely bespoke solution because a) the Open Source solution is more complex to start with and b) the developers will not be able to customise beyond the limits of the solution.

The other issue is that if the Open Source solution is too heavily customised, it will be more costly and maybe impossible to upgrade the underlying solution as new versions of the Open Source solution become available. You are effectively trapped in a particular version and a complete re-build may be required at some point.

Off-the-shelf (Packaged) solutions

Off-the-shelf solutions are low cost and contain a wealth of functionality. Extensive discovery sessions are not required because the functionality is already created. Features can be switched on and off, depending on what your requirements are. As the developers bring out newer versions, you will have a clear upgrade path, so long as your system has not been customised for you!

The drawback with off the shelf systems is that they are severely limited in being able to incorporate functionality not available ‘out of the box’. This will be a real issue later if the business requirement changes and the package solution road map does not include a critical function.

Some off the shelf solutions can be customised to a certain extent but this will lock you in to a particular version of a system. Off-the-shelf solutions are not designed to be customised, so any upgrade will usually mean losing any bespoke work you have paid for, causing significant problems.

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Platform Solution

A platform approach is a relatively new concept compared to the above. Platform solutions, particularly Cloud based Platform solutions are pre-built like off-the-shelf solutions but are designed to be customised using their built-in tools. Platform solutions (like off-the-shelf solutions) are updated regularly by the platform provider. The bespoke developments, if carried out correctly, will be carried forward with each new version of the platform, most of the time this is completely seamless.

Platform solutions, in essence, have the best of both worlds; they are feature rich out of the box and can be customised to a high degree. You are not tied into a particular version number and will always be able to upgrade to the latest version of the platform. Also it’s easy enough to transfer the platform to another provider that is experienced with that platform, so you are not tied into your developers.

The drawback with platform solutions compared to an off-the-shelf system is that they are more costly since there is a certain degree of configuration that needs factoring in, which isn’t necessary for something out of the box.


If an off-the-shelf solution meets your current needs and any foreseeable needs, then the off-the-shelf system will be the most cost-effective solution. If your requirements fall outside off-the-shelf solutions and you foresee unknown changes to the business in the future, (e.g. if you are looking to expand services to members that are likely outside of the norm) then a platform solution should be a strong contender for your next Membership CRM database.

Microsoft Dynamics and Power Apps Platform

Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Apps is currently the market leading CRM Database Platform that is well suited to Membership organisations. This Platform also has native integrations to all other Office 365 applications, including SharePoint and Outlook, so any Membership organisation that already uses Office 365 should strongly consider Microsoft as their Membership CRM Database.