Off the Shelf vs Custom Software


18 June 2021

Software Development

Software Costs


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?

an illustration image of a desktop computer with code in one circle and an arrow coming out of a box in another circle

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

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