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App Development: 'Off-The-Shelf' vs. Custom Software

by David Burkett, Jun 22, 2017

The question of build vs. buy puzzles many C-level managers, who find themselves unable to confidently evaluate the pros and cons of each of their options: build custom business software or buy “off-the-shelf”. This question is all the more challenging for startups, which are normally more resource limited than established organisations. However, because the answer to this question is critical, it cannot be rushed, nor can it be procrastinated. The choice is yours: build and bear the cost of developing an app or buy and bear the cost of not developing an app.

Why You Could Want to Buy Software

Normally, buying your application “off-the-shelf” is quicker and cheaper than hiring a software developer and building your own bespoke app. This is especially advantageous when you’re facing time or financial constraints. The speed and price of buying (vs. building) your app is even more appealing when:
1.your business lacks the technical experience required to either build the app internally or to hold an external app development companies accountable;
2.there is already a product on the market that suits your business’ needs.
Despite these incentives, custom software development is typically superior to buying a pre-packaged app.

Why You Need a Custom Software Developer

Although buying your app “off-the-shelf” is (normally) initially quicker and cheaper than building your own, these advantages seldom last.
First, because you are using another’s code, you are unable to make changes to suit your own changing needs. Instead, you have to wait until the source code’s owner updates the core code, and there’s no guarantee that they will.
Your business’ inability to change the core code that’s critical to your operations limits its ability to pivot and scale. This can have a direct impact on your bottom line and growth. The net result being: the cheapest option may not be the most cost-effective one in the long run.
Limitations of recycling code include:
1.not meeting your needs, requiring additional programs to plug the gap(s);
2.not being able to integrate with other, essential programs in your business’ toolkit.
There can be an opportunity cost to buying part or all of your software stack. When you use the same desktop programs, web and mobile apps, APIs or plugins as your competitors, you miss an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. An advantage that can grow over time, as you invest in your proprietary technology.
When you hire a bespoke software development company, the web and mobile app development costs can be daunting, but there's real value in owning your own source code.
Ultimately, neither option is always better than the other. The individual circumstances of your business and the sub-options within buying or building your application(s) will determine what the appropriate choice is.
For example, some developers, including WorkingMouse, employ an adaptive process for building apps that allow rapid deployment across multiple platforms, including web, Android and iOS. This can reduce the time and cost required to release a custom-made app, and as a result disrupt the normal balance of pros and cons in the build vs. buy dilemma. In the same vein, a competitively priced, “off-the-shelf” app may have all the capabilities your business needs.
To build or to buy. The answer to this question is vital. Your choice will have major time and cost repercussions that impact the future stability and profitability of your company for years to come. Choose well.