When it comes to finding the right software solution for your company, oftentimes it can be the simple case that a lot of the off-the-shelf stuff just doesn’t cut the mustard or quite perform the specific functions that you want. If you find yourself in this position, then you may be considering what your options would be if you went down the route of having a package that was custom made to suit your business.
This of course might seem like a great idea, but a bespoke solution can often require a somewhat hefty investment – especially at the outset – which might leave you having second thoughts.
The truth is that there are both advantages and disadvantages of both bespoke and off-the-shelf software applications – and cost factors into both options.
To help you make the right decision for your organisation, we are taking a balanced look at the benefits and detriments of each, as we weigh up the pros and cons to put you in a more informed position when you come to make the final decision about the future software that your company will use.
Bespoke Software Vs. Off The Shelf Software
The dilemma itself is not something that is particularly new. Way back in 2008 a Baseline article entitled ‘Buy vs. Build Software Applications: The Eternal Dilemma’ (and, so far at least, to use the word ‘eternal’ has not yet proved to be hyperbolic) produced this diagram:
The same problems that affected decision makers then, are precisely the same as what their equivalents are faced with now.
Having a bespoke software application built for your company will mean that it will be absolutely optimized to suit your business’s needs. But this will inevitably come at a higher cost – in terms of both money and time.
The clear advantages of using an off-the-shelf solution is that it is much cheaper and can be installed and up and running almost immediately.
And there are of course many variations of the bespoke software solution as well that need to be taken into consideration. As the baseline article notes:
“A given piece of software application can range from being an unmodified, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software package to being a completely custom, written-from-scratch program. Between those two extremes you can find customized and/or configured COTS software, custom software built using commercial software frameworks and libraries, and complex application systems comprising all of the above. The question: which solution is best?”
Well, there’s (still) no hard and fast answer to that question. In the end it will all boil down to figuring out exactly what your business requires to be running at optimum productivity and making your decision based around that. Indeed, when making your decision between COTS and bespoke, you need to be thinking about the long term. The package that you invest in now you will want to serve you well for the foreseeable future. So, spending a few extra pennies today might save you thousands in the long run – or, it may be the case that an off-the-shelf solution will do everything that you want it to, and so spending any money at all on a custom built application will only equate to a loss down the line.
So, let’s now get into the two options in a bit more detail. We’ll start with the off-the-shelf variety.
The Benefits Of Off-the-shelf Software
(Image source: HeadChannel Ltd. SlideShare)
- Off-the-shelf software by its very nature is funded by a large amount of users – sometimes thousands, or even millions in fact – so tends to be a lot cheaper.
- The software can also be rich with lots of different features. This is because since it is so widely used it is largely profitable, and so lots of time and resources can be spent turning it into something that has lots of nifty features (that a lot of users probably won’t even be aware of, let alone actually use).
- The maintenance and support for off-the-shelf software is widely available since it is so well known and so widely used. This in fact has made the maintenance market highly competitive and so you can usually get a good price for all of your maintenance needs.
- There could be literally millions of people all over the world using the same software as you (think about the likes of Word or Excel, for instance) and so free literature and online support is also available immediately.
- File sharing with customers or other companies is also a benefit, as there is a high likelihood that their systems will be using the same software as you.
- You won’t lose any of your valuable time contributing to the development process – it’s already done and ready to go.
The Detriments Of Off-the-shelf Software
- You will have significantly less influence over the development of the software. Well, you’ll have none at all at the outset, and any changes that you might want to make to it might not be possible.
- Package software is very generic so that it will suit the needs of as many users as possible. As such, it is quite possible – or even quite likely – that you will have to alter your business processes to meet the software requirements, which may not be ideal.
- The complexity of off-the-shelf software means that it is highly likely that it will include extremely large and heavy sections that none of your employees will ever use.
- The software may just simply not be capable of doing everything that you want it to.
- Maintenance and support might prove to be a problem, since you are just one voice in a crowd of maybe thousands who are all vying for attentive, prompt support.
- It can be hard to gain any advantage over your competitors since they all will be able to buy the exact same software as you.
The Benefits Of Bespoke Software
- Bespoke software is specifically tailored to your precise requirements, will perform and function exactly as you want it to, and fit in with how you want your business to operate, rather than the other way round.
- The support you will receive will be from the very same people who built your software in the first place. They will know it inside and out, and thusly be on hand to deal with any problems that you should encounter promptly and often at a personal level.
- Your software package will be wholly unique and not like anything that your competitors will be able to get their hands on, giving you a chance to build yourself a special advantage.
- Bespoke software can be customized so that it interfaces with other software that you are already using. This gives you the ability to build a fully integrated IT infrastructure right across your organisation.
- Users will find it much more easy to use and intuitive, since it will be a much smaller package without reams and reams of superfluous features that no one ever uses.
- Bespoke software is flexible and scalable, and be altered over time as your business requirements change.
- A good software developer will be experienced and will be able to offer suggestions, improvements and solutions at the development stage, and then right through the whole of your bespoke package’s life cycle.
- You may even also have the option to sell your software application to others in your industry – assuming that you own the rights to it – which means you can recoup some, all, or even profit on your initial investment
- The initial investment will inevitably be much higher than the off-the-shelf solution. This indeed often proves to be the deciphering factor for why businesses choose to opt out of the bespoke solution.
- You take on a massive risk when hiring a developer. If they are inexperienced or under qualified to complete the task that you set out for them, then you could end up with something that is ridden with bugs or just completely unstable. This will cost you time and resources in correcting these issues.
- If you don’t own the source code, then you will be at the mercy of your developers. If they go out of business or if you have a disagreement at some point, then if something goes wrong you may find yourself in an unsolvable situation.
- You will need to invest a large amount of your time into the development process, and bespoke software applications also take a long time to implement.
- Unless the developers themselves offer support services, then finding support and maintenance for your bespoke package can be difficult, time consuming and expensive.
A Final Word
So there are the pros and cons of each option. There are certainly many advantages that can be had from turning to bespoke software, but they do come at a cost of both time and money.
Generally speaking, bespoke software will provide you with a very precise solution to your business needs, and this will ultimately prove to be profitable in the long run, as you can optimize your business processes and productivity levels to make your business run as efficiently as possible.
Put simply, choosing the right team to develop the right software will offset any investment that you make – but in the end it will come down to deciphering exactly what you need from your software.
In order to determine this, you need to undertake a serious business justification exercise and scrupulously compare the costs against the expected benefits and business advantages that you think having a bespoke solution will make.
It can be a bit of a minefield, but the decision you make will be the right one.