Platform in detail

Configurator development: platform vs. self-build

Author: Klaus Pilsl

What is a configurator?

A configurator represents a real product virtually and interactively. The configurator thus offers modification options (solution space), applies the stored product intelligence (rule set), and represents the product in 2D or 3D, for example (visualization).

General configurator development

If you're thinking about giving your customers the ability to customize your products by introducing a configurator, that's a great idea. But before you start building a configurator, there are a few things to consider.

It is understandable that at first you only think about the effort involved in building a configurator. You may have created a short to-do list for yourself that looks like this: Determine selection options, create visualization, have a developer program it,.... Not only can this quick start cause significant delays and financial losses, but it can also pose a significant risk to your business. In fact, about 75% of all do-it-yourself configurator projects fail.

In this article, we would like to take a closer look at why it is worth using a platform for the development of a configurator. A platform already offers an environment with all the necessary functions for building and operating online configurators, so that only the product data of the product to be configured needs to be stored. We show which differences come into play when building your own configurator compared to using a platform.

Configurator development: platform vs. self-build

Configurator platform vs. self-build: Which factors are decisive?

Configurator setup

Every configurator basically consists of two parts: the product data and the configurator system.

Product data: Product data is essential for every product configurator. They describe the product to be configured and contain all necessary rules, parameters and representations. This includes, for example, product rules such as dependencies, exclusions, target value calculations, the solution space, the product representation in the form of text, 2D or 3D models, and the interactive user interface. In contrast to the configurator system, the product data for each configurator is individual. Without the right product data, a configurator will not function correctly and the user experience will suffer. Therefore, it is crucial that the product data is carefully created and continuously updated to ensure a smooth configuration experience for your customers.

In order to store the product data in the configurator, a predefined form must be adhered to. In the case of in-house developments, this must first be found and defined by the developer, which has already been done in the case of platforms. For example, code in connection with relational databases is usually used for in-house developments.

Configurator system: The configurator system is responsible for the smooth operation of the configurator. It ensures that the product data is displayed correctly and that the interface and interaction work flawlessly on all end devices.

A particularly practical form of configurator systems are platforms that not only provide a fully functional configurator system, but also offer powerful tools for creating and managing product data. When building your own, this configurator system must be created from scratch.

Factors: time and cost

It is clear that the creation of a configurator involves effort. But it is often forgotten that a configurator must also be further developed. Because not only the company, the product, the target group and the sales requirements are constantly changing, but also the digital sales media and the presentation options expected by users are subject to constant change.


  1. Concept development: During concept creation, all areas of the product data are defined - regardless of whether you develop the configurator yourself or use a platform. However, it is advisable to proceed very thoroughly here and with professional support, as conceptual errors in this phase often cannot be corrected later in a commercially viable manner.
  2. Creation of the raw data: To create the raw data for a configurator, the form and data structure is crucial. Platforms already offer well thought-out structures that have proven themselves in terms of performance and maintainability. For in-house developments, the effort depends heavily on the experience and expertise of the developer. Once the data structures have been defined, the raw data must be created and prepared for this data structure basis by the company's product developer or product manager. Platforms already offer options here for collecting the raw data automatically and periodically from the company's systems via definable workflows and making it available to the configurator in a suitable form.
  3. Graphic data: In the raw data for a configurator, the visualization data in particular must be carefully considered. These require special expertise to ensure that the visualizations work well later in the configurator. Unlike platforms that offer ready-made structures and modules, an individual developer must develop special visualization tools and data structures for his configurator.
  4. Development of the configurator: The implementation or development of a configurator can be a challenge. There are configurators developed in-house that work excellently and create wow effects for customers. Unfortunately, this is the exception. More often, projects have to be rescued because the budget was exceeded many times over and the planned product launch had to be postponed several times. Quite a few projects are therefore aborted. Experience shows that developers fail not because of the product data, but because of the configurator systems they have to develop. In some cases, this development and subsequent further development effort exceeds the costs of using a platform by orders of magnitude. When using a configurator platform, the effort is reduced to the creation of the product data. The configurator system is already provided by the platform, which also offers tools for simple product data development. This reduces the development effort enormously and ensures successful project completion.
  5. Further development of the configurator: An often underestimated component in the introduction of a configurator is its further development. A configurator is rarely operated as it was originally designed - it is a living communication tool. That is why it is essential that the configurator remains maintainable and evolves with the product, the company and the state of the art. This is where the possibilities of a platform come into play: They enable the product data to be adapted quickly and - unlike with individual developers - can be operated by many employees. In addition, the configurator can also be extended very easily for new technologies.

Remember that a configurator is not just a simple product visualization, but a powerful tool that maps the reason for your company's existence: Your product and its intelligence.

Configurator development: platform vs. self-build

Factors: Maintainability & Extensibility

Configurators should not be rigid constructs that are created once and then operated unchanged for years. Instead, they are a communication tool that constantly reacts to the new requirements of the market, the company, and the product. Therefore, it must be easy to maintain all content (product data, visualizations, user interface, interfaces, etc.) and keep it up-to-date. Be aware how strategically important it is to be equipped with good tools. An in-house development may be cheaper in the beginning, but in the long run a platform is more cost- and time-efficient as well as functionally more powerful than in-house developments. In-house developments are usually implemented by individual developers, which entails considerable risks. Especially in the long term, you expose your company to the risk of tying this strategic function to individual developers.

In order to remain at the state of the art in the long term, all innovations must be fundamentally re-implemented by the individual developers in the case of in-house developments. Platforms largely take over this task because they constantly offer new and often immediately usable functions that you can simply include in your configurator.

Factors: Scalability and stability

Configurators take on a central role in the company. This is because they represent the product and thus the reason for the company's existence. Once the configurator is up and running, more and more customers, employees and managers rely on its smooth service. Therefore, everyone must be able to rely 100% on the configurator. Even inconspicuous programming errors, performance bottlenecks or untested special cases can have a serious impact on business operations. This poses great challenges for individual developers and often puts them under pressure. Platforms have invested many man-years of development for this, which individual developers cannot afford to do economically. Platforms also offer easy-to-use plug-ins for third-party systems to enable automated communication between the configurator and other systems.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a configurator self-build compared to a platform?

Configurator self build


  • suitable for very simple configurators 
  • no subscription fees for platform


  • concentration of knowledge among individual developers 
  • without costly further development, the configurator becomes obsolete in the long term
  • no high availability operation 
  • more expensive in the long term than with platform
  • required testing effort in configurator construction is often not made - low stability
  • hosting must be provided and maintained by the customer

Configurator platform


  • no system development required 
  • fast time-to-market
  • highly available operation 
  • many immediately usable extensions
  • ready integrations into external systems
  • can be maintained by several employees 
  • support and know-how from the platform operator


  • subscription fees apply


For very simple configurators (few parameters, no visualization, no integrations), in-house developments make perfect sense, as they deliver results very quickly and without ongoing costs. However, our experience shows that companies almost always underestimate the complexity of their own products. However, as soon as the scope increases, the call for a professional platform also becomes loud. This ensures that the configurable product is structured, can be further developed, can access new technologies, runs stably and covers the constantly growing requirements of the company.


Which is cheaper: self-build or platform?

Self-build is only initially more favorable for very simple configurators (e.g. checklist without visualization). In all other cases, the platform is better suited.

Which is more time-consuming: self-build or platform?

Experience shows that even software developers often underestimate the effort required to build configurators. The platform is not only much faster, but also leads more reliably to the goal.

Which functions and possibilities does a configurator platform offer compared to a self-built platform?

A platform is further developed by the platform operator. The platform customers benefit from new functions that they would not be able to develop economically on their own.