Off the Shelf vs Custom Software


If you have a newly es­tab­lished busi­ness and are look­ing to start au­tomat­ing some processes, or you have be­gun look­ing into ways to build ef­fi­cien­cies in how your busi­ness op­er­ates, no doubt you have come across the idea of solv­ing these prob­lems with soft­ware. The ques­tion is, do you buy a li­cense for an al­ready de­vel­oped off-the-shelf (OTS) so­lu­tion, or do you build the so­lu­tion cus­tom to suit your needs?

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When de­cid­ing what is best for your busi­ness, the first step is to es­tab­lish what you ex­pect the soft­ware to de­liver. Make sure you are clear on the value this soft­ware will bring your busi­ness be­fore you start look­ing at your op­tions, be­cause if you don’t go through the process of scop­ing out your must-have re­quire­ments first, then you may find your­self starstruck with fea­tures that don’t ac­tu­ally solve your prob­lem later on.

Once you have es­tab­lished your es­sen­tials list, you can then start in­ves­ti­gat­ing what so­lu­tions are avail­able within the mar­ket.

The key things to look out for with OTS so­lu­tions

Is it a one-off cost or sub­scrip­tion model?

  • Cost of life for OTS so­lu­tions can some­times cost more than cus­tom soft­ware would, es­pe­cially if this is a niche process and you are go­ing to need the same so­lu­tion for 5-10+ years.

Compatibility with cur­rent sys­tems

  • When look­ing at OTS so­lu­tions it is im­por­tant to see if they in­te­grate with any in­ter­nal sys­tems that you are al­ready us­ing (CRM, Invoicing, Email/Calendars and so on).

Is com­mer­cial dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion im­por­tant for this so­lu­tion?

  • With an OTS so­lu­tion, you are gain­ing ac­cess to a so­lu­tion that is also avail­able to all of your com­pe­ti­tion, so you need to de­ter­mine if dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is im­por­tant for your busi­ness goals.

Customisation costs

  • If there is­n’t an OTS so­lu­tion avail­able that matches all the re­quire­ments you have scoped then you will need to cus­tomise the soft­ware to meet those re­quire­ments. This can be ex­tremely costly, so en­sure you are aware of what this would look like when you be­gin con­ver­sa­tions with OTS providers.

Is im­ple­men­ta­tion time im­por­tant?

  • If you need a so­lu­tion im­ple­mented quickly then OTS so­lu­tions will of­ten be the best course of ac­tion as they are al­ready de­vel­oped and can be im­ple­mented sooner.

For more in­for­ma­tion about in­te­gra­tions with OTS so­lu­tions, you can read: What Are the Top CRM APIs?

Block quote reads "if you don't go through the process of scoping out your requirements from the star, you may be starstruck by features later on"

Considerations when look­ing at cus­tom soft­ware so­lu­tions

Are your re­quire­ments go­ing to evolve as your busi­ness grows?

  • If you know that the re­quire­ments of your soft­ware will evolve over the next few years, you should con­sider look­ing into build­ing cus­tom. Custom soft­ware is most suit­able in this sit­u­a­tion be­cause you have to­tal con­trol over what is changed and adapted for your unique busi­ness needs.

Cashflow in your busi­ness

  • When look­ing into Custom soft­ware de­vel­op­ment it is im­por­tant to con­sider that the ini­tial out­lay is likely go­ing to be higher than an OTS so­lu­tion and will re­quire a larger amount of cap­i­tal to get off the ground. If cash flow is still quite tight in the busi­ness, an OTS so­lu­tion may be ap­pro­pri­ate for the short-to-medium term. However, if you have a lit­tle bit more wig­gle room, the in­vest­ment in cus­tom-built soft­ware is worth­while.

Where will you get it built?

  • When look­ing into cus­tom soft­ware de­vel­op­ment it is im­por­tant to en­sure you are work­ing with a de­vel­oper who un­der­stands your busi­ness needs, your tar­get au­di­ence and can also ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently de­liver the so­lu­tion.

Some ad­di­tional help­ful re­sources to use when look­ing for a soft­ware de­vel­oper are: How to Evaluate Software Agencies and These Are the ‘Other Costs’ when Building Custom Software

Ultimately, when look­ing into OTS vs Custom Software de­vel­op­ment it comes down to what your busi­ness ob­jec­tives are, bud­get al­lo­ca­tion and time­lines look like. What is most im­por­tant is es­tab­lish­ing what you need first - only then can you be­gin the short­list­ing process.

Decided that a cus­tom soft­ware so­lu­tion is for you? Book in for a free Product Strategy Session here.

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Josh Beatty

Account de­vel­oper and hair gel hoarder

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