Bespoke software or an off-the-shelf solution?

date: 12 December 2017
reading time: 2 min

When looking for new software for your organisation, you want something that is reliable, efficient, modern, user-friendly, and - perhaps most importantly - catering to all your needs by doing its job properly.

Regardless of whether you’re running a major digital transformation programme, or just considering a new piece of software for your organisation, it is very likely that you’re faced with the dilemma of choosing ready-made software or a tailor-made solution.

The question you may have in mind is: Every organisation is different, so why go with one size fits all? However, custom software and an off-the-shelf solution have their pros and cons, so it’s important to consider both sides of an argument and go with whichever suits the needs of your organisation best.

Take a look at the comparison of advantages and disadvantages of off-the-shelf and bespoke solutions.

Off-the-shelf

Advantages Disadvantages
LOWER INITIAL COST: Packaged software tends to be cheaper, as the costs of development have been spread across thousands of purchasers of the solution. HIGHER COST WITH MANY USERS: With ‘cost per licence’ payment model in particular, the bill can be quite hefty. Especially if you need your software to be used by a large number of employees at your company. Not to mention, these fees must be paid periodically.
READY WHEN YOU ARE: When using an off-the-shelf software, what you need to do is have it set up on your machines and start using it immediately. In case of centrally hosted solutions, there is even no need for installations. NEED FOR CONFIGURATION: At times, you may find that commercially available products don’t quite meet the specific needs of your company, or are not compatible with your other systems. This may mean you require additional personalisation of the product, which usually leads to unexpected extra costs, and is not always possible.
AVAILABILITY OF TRAINING: A packaged solution is likely to have an established base of training materials. They come from the official producer of the software and corporate training companies, but also from its avid users (think YouTube tutorials and community forums). COMPLEXITY: Too many features can cause confusion among users and unnecessary clutter in the application. You may not be able to hide or remove functionalities or fields your staff neither like, nor need. This makes the system larger and harder to learn.
UPGRADES: An out-of-the box software will be continuously developed by its producer who will launch new and upgraded versions. Usually they are available for free or at a reduced cost. NO COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: You are just one of many users of the same system, which can also be bought by your competitors. In this case, it is hard to gain any competitive advantage.
MORE FUNCTIONALITY: Since it has to meet the requirements of as many users as possible, an off-the-shelf solution is likely to have more functionality. Often you will discover useful features you didn’t realise you needed.

Bespoke software

Advantages Disadvantages
TAILOR-MADE: The product you will receive will be one of a kind – suited to you, your company and your pocket. It will do exactly what you need it to, exactly how you want it to. Nothing more, nothing less. HIGHER INITIAL COSTS: As bespoke system needs to be developed to match the needs of your business, it will cost more initially. What is more, sometimes you will end up with underestimated budgets, increasing the costs further.
EASE OF USE: Bespoke system requires less supervision and results in fewer errors. It increases productivity and is easy to understand, because it incorporates your own business know-how. LONG WAITING TIME: Software development requires not only money, but also time and effort. The more complex a solution you need, the longer will it take to build it for you. The more you get into the project, the more complicated – and expensive – it becomes.
FLEXIBILITY: Since you are in control of a scalable solution, it can be amended over time to match your new criteria. And as your business changes, the system can change too, boosting your performance. RISK OF INSTABILITY: When not developed according to best standards – and especially when the budget and deadlines are tight – the software could be done in a rush and thus be unreliable and bug-ridden.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Bespoke development increases not only cyber safety of the system, but also operational security of your company. As you own the solution, you are not tied to a specific vendor, nor forced to pay monthly per-user fees.
COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: A tailor-made system can give you the upper hand, as your competitors won’t have access to the same solutions. And as it becomes your company’s asset, it adds more value to your business.

So, which way to go?

For ready-made software, ask for a demo to find out what it is capable of and what limitations there are. But beyond speaking to the vendor, look through internet forums for reviews of real-life users. Be aware that it is highly unlikely to find an off-the-shelf solution that does everything you need it to.

For a custom-made product, discuss your requirements with an IT provider that is proven in bespoke software. Let them show you what they’re capable off. It is worth considering a company that has a separate Analysis and Design department which conducts a thorough analysis of the problem and propose the best solution.

We understand that each business is different and therefore software development needs to match your uniqueness. Besides looking at the generic pros and cons, it is worth looking at your products in detail. In a world of ever-faster change, make sure your business relies on solutions that support your changing needs and processes.

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