We’ve got to know a lot of businesses in the past ten years, and we’ve been through the growing pains and difficult mistakes ourselves too. Even as a software company, we have thought long and hard before deciding on the right software solutions for ourselves.
Perhaps you have been using software for years in your business and are totally comfortable with all the jargon that gets bandied around in this industry. Perhaps you are just researching business software solutions for the first time and you need some help. Either way, let’s get clear on some of the terminology before we dig into the details.
Off-the-shelf software is the name given to those applications that are built for a general purpose, to fit the needs of many people. They can be very specific to a particular market segment, but are still built with the aim of serving as many people as possible with the same functionality for everyone.
Custom, or bespoke, business software is an application that is made for one particular company. It is written just for them and generally with functionality that can’t be found ‘off-the-shelf’ because it fits so specifically with the operations of their business.
WHICH TYPE OF SOFTWARE IS BETTER?
Like a teacher deciding that none of the kids won the competition because they were all wonderful in their own way… the answer to this question is irritatingly open. Yes, that’s right, it all depends on where you are in the evolution of your business. Your choice will depend on the kind of company you are building and how you will be using technology to your advantage. To massively oversimplify the discussion, we could say that off-the-shelf software is cheaper and bespoke is more flexible. It’s not always so clear-cut, however, so let’s look at some of the nuances of this decision may involve for you.
BENEFITS OF OFF-THE-SHELF SOFTWARE
- Off-the-shelf software is likely to be cheaper to buy.
- If it is a well-supported piece of software then it will continue to be developed and improved with little or no input from you.
- Given that off-the-shelf tends to be updated frequently you can get additional value as you go along, without paying any extra for updates.
PITFALLS OF OFF-THE-SHELF SOFTWARE
- As your business evolves, the software may not be able to scale sufficiently to meet your needs.
- It is an expensive process to switch to a new piece of software, so if the off-the-shelf solution turns out to be inadequate you can be stuck with it until ready to invest in something new.
- Off-the-shelf software tends to cover a few of your key business processes. Some high quality solutions cover many different processes, but it is common for a company to need several pieces of software which may or may not integrate smoothly with each other.
BENEFITS OF BESPOKE SOFTWARE
- Custom software is designed for you, with the exact functionality you need. Cherry picking all the way.
- You have only the functionality you need, no extra clutter or buttons that you’ll never use.
- It’s less of a learning curve to introduce it into the business because it is such a direct match.
- The costs of development and maintenance are likely to be less in the long-run because it was designed to meet your particular needs in the first place.
- The intellectual property is yours, which has many benefits for your business.
PITFALLS OF BESPOKE SOFTWARE
- Bespoke software can require a much higher initial investment than an off-the-shelf product.
- Creating a custom piece of software will require significant time on your part as you work with your software partner to scope out exactly what you need.
- The software will be defined by your own business processes, which means that you need to be confident that your processes are robust enough to be standardised.
WHEN BUSINESS OWNERS MAKE THE WRONG CHOICE – SOME EXAMPLES
We’ve had countless customers come to us with a situation to untangle regarding the software choices they’ve made. Usually something to put down to experience and often quite possible to resolve. Here are a few of the most common issues we have seen business owners make:
- They choose off-the-shelf software, thinking that their needs at that time are quite simple. They then realise they need some additional features and find that they have no control over their software. This is particularly tricky when the provider has no interest in further developing the software.
- They choose bespoke software without doing sufficient research on existing off-the-shelf options. They risk spending a large amount of money on custom software. Whilst it is likely to be more suited to their needs in the long-run, they could have saved themselves a sum of money upfront.
- They decide to make a bespoke program but do not have enough technical knowledge to choose a good partner. Often this scenario starts out with an over-ambitious freelancer or employee who seems perfectly capable at the outset and ends up wading in out of their depth.
Hopefully this article has begun to demystify this decision a little. Add a comment if you’d like to ask one of our team any specific questions about your decision.