How to Choose Between Custom or Off-The-Shelf Software

How to choose between custom software and off-the-shelf software

What started out as a neat Excel database soon becomes a nightmare, and a clumsy system that takes ages to get any decent data from.

It’s time to get more effective: you need software. But is there one out there that does just what you need? Or is it better to get a custom software solution developed specifically for your needs?

We’ll look at the pro’s and con’s for each to help you decide.

The reality: as you grow and expand, your business becomes more accountable and responsible towards the stakeholders, employees, and customers.

Work becomes vast and complex in nature. Day-to-day communication, calculations, record-keeping, monitoring, checking, systematizing, measuring, delegating and other operations require a more streamlined approach if the business wants to keep growing – and keep their managers from going nuts.

You need software to get more accuracy, diligence and standardization in your business.

You’re probably looking into automating certain processes to improve operations and make them more effective.

When you’re trying to decide between a ready-made (aka off-the-shelf) software product and a custom solution developed just for you, there are several points to consider.

Picking the right program is a lofty responsibility, so we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of both solutions here.

What is off-the-shelf software?

Off-the-shelf software is a ready-made application that is developed to suit general needs of an organization. It provides all the features and factors that can help businesses run certain processes in a general automated framework.

Examples are a customer relationship management system, a stock control system, or even an email management system. You can find pretty neat solutions out there for any of these problems and more.

What is custom made software?

Custom made software is a tailor-made product to cater for specific needs in your business. Unlike generic software, it is made to suit each process exactly the way they happen in your organization.

Example: you’re running a wholesale business with a depot and you need to track stock in a specialized way. An off-the-shelf product will do certain parts of what you need, but it probably won’t notify your manufacturers automatically when stock is running low – requiring an extra person to monitor and order each item. With a custom software you could automate the whole process from ordering to getting it to the end buyer.

Points to consider

1. Size of Company

If you have a medium to large business with a lot of uniquely placed processes, it’s better to have a custom software built. Also, the more employees you have the greater the chance you need something tailored specifically for your needs.

You can benefit greatly by having personalized features that directly address all your departmental and process elements in an all-encompassing manner.

Though size is not always a good indicator, for example even a 2-person wedding planner business can greatly benefit from an online platform where their clients can choose and customize features for their weddings, freeing up several hours a week.

That said, if you own a small business it’s easier to find an off-the-shelf software that fits your needs without costing a lot of money.

Make sure you’re analysing your own processes first, and choose a product that best resembles what you need.

2. Purpose

If the software system needs to handle dynamic tasks and does multi-tasking it should be planned and validated by thorough research and development.

This entails building a custom software with a fool-proof system that complies with all the protocols and combines all the elements in a well-organised manner.

Also, if the software needs to connect the different offices, departments and work process it needs to be handled by full-fledged network policies, security and back-up storage. This can be better addressed by a custom software development company with dedicated professionals.

However, if the purpose of the software is to provide solution to common office-related tasks and processes, you can probably find one that is already built for that purpose.

3. Nature of Business

If you own a business that deals in a unique product and belongs to a niche concept, it’s always better to choose custom software. It will not only ensure that the product sales or logistics are well monitored but will also include features and modules such as statistics implemented in your automated system.

If your business is a restaurant for example, it means that the processes are fairly standard regardless what kind of restaurant it is. Because there are a lot of restaurants around the world, there is off-the-shelf software developed specifically for them, and it will most likely suit their needs.

4. Type of User

The type of user going to use the system is a good way to determine whether to get custom software developed or to buy an off-the-shelf software application.

If you’re looking at making the follow-up system more effective and easier to control, there is probably a ready-made program for that. Usually a fairly standard office operation at the basic user level doesn’t need a specialized solution.

However, if the user belongs to managerial level or is having very specific needs in terms of accessibility, functionality, and technicalities, custom software is recommended.

There may be different off-the-shelf software available in the market with a variety of features. However, they may lack details and task entities, which could interfere with the processes handled by the top officials.

5. Number of Users

This is where it gets tricky: usually off-the-shelf software is charged by the number of people using it.

It’s a common situation even for small businesses to make more sense to have the program developed for them rather than paying a yearly fee per each user. Get it done once, use it forever by as many people as you want – it’s yours after all.

Custom Software Pros…

1. It fits your business like a glove. Custom software allows companies to create programs and applications that match their needs exactly, from functional use to aesthetic style and organizational arrangement. In strong contrast to off-the-shelf applications, custom software contains exactly what you require.

2. Leaning curve. Training time is greatly reduced with custom software because it is tailored to your existing processes and not the other way around.
Training is easier when the presenting staff doesn’t have to completely switch gears to address a particular quirk of a typical software package.

Custom software development creates tailored applications that can include the majority of a company’s work using a single solution, thereby making it easier for new hires to understand how everything should work together smoothly.

3. Custom software is great for firms that love interconnectivity. By letting employees mesh their work and their preferred personal communication devices, it can change the way you go about business.

4. Scalability
Off-the-shelf software can only do so much. It might be too bulky for your needs in the beginning, and it might get too “tight” later on as your company grows.

… and the cons

1. Custom Software is designed to cater for your organisational needs. It is often more expensive to purchase as compared to off the shelf software. How much you pay, is determined by the software scope and its abilities. Keep in mind the money you will save in the long run from duplicated work.

2. Custom software is mostly not readily available as compared to off the shelf software. The time taken to complete the software depends on the project scope. The duration taken to develop the application can be decreased by using professional and experienced software engineers.

Off-the-Shelf Software Pros…

1. Plug-n-play: Off the shelf software is always complete and ready for use when purchased.

2. They often cost less than the custom software. However, you may be charged license fees for every user/software operator and you probably have to renew the fees every year.

3. Technical support is usually offered free of charge.

…and the cons

1. The software may be unable to allow adjustments and create new functions that are necessary. Therefore many organisations use two or more different software applications to integrate other departments resulting in redundant data and unnecessary tasks.

2. In some cases, your workflow will need to be adjusted instead of the software meeting your process needs. This will require training and more time in order to get the best results.

3. If there is a bug that needs fixing then the manufacturer of the application will need to be contacted. However, this can take a lot of time because they tend to be far away.

4. Some software manufactures charge annual license or subscription renewal fees. It is prudent to enquire before making a purchase.

5. Scalability: Off-the-shelf software can only do so much. It might be too bulky for your needs in the beginning, and it might get too “tight” later on as your company grows. In order to accommodate to the growing needs of the business you might have to start using a new product or application which means a lot of wasted time (in research, onboarding, training, production) and an increased risk of data loss.