My customers have told me that they have spent years integrating off-the-shelf software solutions into their business and training staff only to find out further down the road they are limited and can go no further. At this stage they may send a new feature request to the developers. The developers will generally only consider this feature if it is in high demand by the masses. This request might be crucial to your business or industry, but to 80% of their customer base it is not important. So the feature request will either just be ignored or it will be years before implemented.
The question I ask my customers is...
"Is it more important to get up and running quickly with a software solution, but accept you may hit a brick wall further down the road or would you prefer to have a cloud based web application developed to your exact needs with no limitation and the ability to prioritise functionality based on business demands?"
In some cases the reply I might get is both. i.e. Set up the off-the-shelf solution to get up and running quickly, but then build the bespoke system in the background and migrate when ready.
I have years of experience in this area. When a customer explains what they are trying to achieve for their business I will first do in-depth research to see if there is a pre-developed software solution that suits their needs as this is generally the most cost effective route for them. If there is a solution I will next see if the system can be adapted or expanded with custom modules / plug-ins. If there is not a solution I would suggest a plan for a bespoke web application.
Honestly the answer is generally yes, but not always! If you are just looking for a simple calculator tool this can be developed quite reasonably. If you are looking for a system that can under pin your business it can get quite expensive due to the development time. However, from experience I have found in the long term you actually save money due to streamlining processes which makes staff work more efficiently or you may result in reducing your employee overhead.
- In-house systems
- Bespoke ordering systems
- Event booking systems
- Custom membership websites
- Complex customer pricing matrix
- Quotation system (outputting to PDF's or Excel)
- Bespoke content management systems
- Data organisation with easy filtering systems
- Sales enquiry lead forms with CRM integrations
- Finance calculators
- Return on investment calculators
- Bespoke e-commerce systems
Off-the-shelf software is software that is ready-made and available to lots of people. You usually pay a licence fee to use it, e.g. Microsoft Office, Salesforce, Sage, etc.
- Cheaper. The development costs are spread across numerous users, so you pay much less than it would cost to build the same software from scratch.
- Immediate availability. The development work has already been done, so all you need to do is set up the software and start using it.
- Community support. If the software is popular, there may be books, articles, forums and online communities offering support and advice to help you learn or resolve any issues.
- More functionality. Off-the-shelf software often has more functionality, because the developers try to meet the requirements of as many users as possible. (There may even be functionality you didn’t realise you need!)
- Upgrades. The vendor will continue to develop the software, so you will likely get upgrades for free or at a reduced cost, whereas in bespoke software you don’t get anything new unless you pay for it to be built.
- Compromise. You may have to compromise on your requirements – it is unlikely you will find ready-made software that does everything you need it to, exactly how you want it to.
- May be overly complicated. The software may include functionality that you don’t need, as it is trying to meet the different requirements of a number of users. This can make it more difficult to learn and use.
- You are not in control. The vendor’s plans for the future may not always fit with your own. As a single customer amongst many, you may not be able to get the features you want implemented.
Bespoke software is written especially for you, to meet your specific business requirements.
- Tailored to you. The software is developed and built to meet your specific requirements, ensuring that you get software that works exactly how you need it to and delivers the results you want.
- More flexible. A bespoke software system can evolve over time to match your changing requirements.
- No per-user fees. If you own the software, you won’t have to extra per-user fees as your business grows.
- Not tied in. You own the intellectual property, so you are not tied to a specific vendor that could potentially disappear at any time.
- Competitive advantage. As your competitors won’t have the same software, it could give you a competitive edge. An effective software package can make a company work more efficiently, improve their performance and have a positive impact on customer satisfaction levels.
- Higher initial costs. It will cost more at the beginning, as you have to pay the development costs.
- Takes longer. Depending on the size and complexity of the software, it may take months or even years to develop.
A third possibility is to find an off-the-shelf package that fits 80% of your requirements, then have it customised to fit the other 20%. This may be by the original developers, if they are willing to do so, or by a third party, as long as it is customisable or open source.
This solution gives you the best of both worlds – cheaper and faster setup than fully bespoke software, but a closer match to your requirements than plain off-the-shelf software.
Over the last few years I have become a specialist web application developer – I can develop a solution tailored to your business, or customise your existing systems to work better. I also offer a consultancy service, using my expertise to help clients choose the right off-the-shelf software for them.
Contact me to discuss your requirement