Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf: Best Approach for Business Growth

Software Development
custom software vs off-the-shelf software

Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf: Best Approach for Business Growth

How nice would it be to get the chef to prepare your favorite sandwich with all the ingredients of your choice – just the right amount of condiments with your favorite bread, rather than eating something which is already prepared for the masses? While the pre-made offering might be good but making the chef prepare your choice of sandwich is really going to hit the spot. 

The pre-prepared sandwiches are the off-the-shelf software that is prepared for the masses and not directly tailored according to your taste (business), unlike custom software.

For better understanding let me give you one more example. Imagine a scenario where you are the sales manager and you want to develop a CRM tool for your team to track the customers’ behavior. Also, you want to manage your website content in a better manner along with some engaging features like member sign up, receiving newsletters from some email service, track the credentials and member behavior; simultaneously leveraging a reporting system to monitor website usage and define custom tracking tags in CMS. This seems a bit complex as the solution requires both Content Management & CRM, with the integration of email and tracking functionalities. 

As per your requirement, a custom software solution will be the perfect match. 

Further, a custom solution can give you an extra edge over your competitors where you can gain useful insights about your customers. In turn, helping the sales team in quicker and more accurate decision making, and enhancing overall customer experience and satisfaction. Here’s the case study of our client, Stubbs & Woottons, for whom we have built custom business solutions according to their needs.

Adoption Trends – Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf

Talking about the adoption trends of the two types of software (say for example in ERP category), it can be projected that there could be a marginal decline in the usage of off-the-shelf software and an increase in usage of the custom software. Let us understand it more clearly from the graph below (published in ScholarWorks).

Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf Software

What is custom software?

The software is built to cater to the specific needs of an organization or individual users. For instance, you are the HR head who wants to introduce a payroll system in your organization. As an experienced person in the HR department, you know the system inside out. Hence, you decided to go for a custom solution that would be equipped with all the features that are required for the payroll system of your company.

What is off-the-shelf software?

This software is a readymade product. You have to just purchase it and it is ready for your use, as opposed to the custom software that is designed & developed for a specific purpose. For instance, Microsoft office is off-the-shelf software.

Custom software v/s Off-the-Shelf

1. Build Purpose

Custom software is built to meet the unique challenges of a particular organization or an individual. It is designed specifically for the unique circumstances and when built well, provides a perfect solution to your problem. For example, you can serverless technology to enhance your software’s performance. It is built to internalize your current processes for which you don’t have to change the processes. It is really fast and easy for you and your team to familiarize themselves with how the system works. It will be simpler to fine-tune the software in the future to make sure that a high level of performance is maintained. 

Off-the-shelf software is designed for a wide range of consumers with a standard design and framework that is already developed. There are chances that it might not cater to your individual requirements. This would require you to be more careful while choosing one. 

2. Usability: Is commercial off-the-shelf software better than custom software?

Off-the-shelf software has the advantage of being used by many users as it is readily available. Anyone can buy it and install immediately for use. But, it would require your operations team to put in efforts in understanding the functionalities of the software. 

We had a client who was working in a data company. He came to us with the problem as stated here: “We had a lot of data but were unable to utilize it properly. We decided to buy a tool that would help us get the most out of the data. We bought a tool (the name I would not like to state here), which seemed to make a perfect match for us. It did that we needed it to do and enabled us to use the data in the ways in which we were not able to do it before. From implementation to understanding the tool, it was tedious. It was too much of hotchpotch between the software provider and us. Gradually, we on the research team stopped using the tool, and that thing became a relic almost eight months after the purchase.”

We, at Simform, consulted the client to channelize the efforts put in the utilization of the data. We developed a custom solution based on our client’s requirements with the features – data churning, predictive analytics, report generation, data segmentation, etc. The client is satisfied and making the most out of the data on which they work.

Talking about custom software, it is built for only one individual or company for their specific purpose. The company or individual should have an in-depth understanding of their needs and should be thorough about how the end products will address those needs. It might happen that sometimes the actual requirements are identified at the time of development, which is not common though. Also, it would require extra time and effort. The installation and integration of the custom software is easy and smooth since the software is built in collaboration with people from the organization.

3. Cost: Is Custom Software really Expensive

Off-the-shelf software have low upfront costs because the development cost is distributed across a wider audience. They are cheap to purchase initially but can cost you a lot more; sometimes due to their inefficiencies or any ongoing maintenance or due to subscription fees. Another hidden expense of using off-the-shelf software is that your own operations staff will require formal training for using the software. 

Custom software is expensive upfront as the software is developed to solve specific needs which involves time and investment. Though expensive, they probably last longer and make you feel uniquely yours, rather than slightly off at this spot or that spot. Since it is designed for the already existing process, it saves time and overhead expenses in training the operations staff.

4. Modifications: is it allowed in commercial off the shelf software?

Off-the-shelf software, once purchased, are difficult to be modified. You don’t know when your business grows and would require you to modify the already purchased software. Just because you don’t control the changes and upgrades of the said software, you have to limit yourself with the options available in the purchased software. In order to get the changes done in the software, you’d need to convince the software company that your needs outweigh their product roadmap. 

On the other hand, custom software can be easily modified and are open to expansion. You own the software and in order to keep in-step with the trending technology, morphs, and different changes, you need modifications in the software, keeping the pace of your business intact. A custom solution provides the space and has that scope of accommodating modifications required when the need arises. 

5. Community Support: how important is it?

Most of the pre-built software comes with on-going support, where the support required will be subject to some fee. This would allow the users to get help if they are facing any trouble while operating the software. If the user base of the software is large, you might find a helpful community online. 

In the case of custom software, you would have an advantage of contacting your custom solution provider to solve the queries or issues, if any. You won’t require to search for solutions to your problems that you face using the custom solution.

6. Time to develop and deploy

The deployment time required for off-the-shelf software is almost nil as the user has to only install the software and it is ready to use. But using off-the-shelf solution might be unsatisfactory due to standard features. Also, implementation and customization of software that was not built for your specific needs can take surprisingly more amount of time. It can’t be as easy as loading a program and getting the output. Most off-the-shelf software is structured as monthly subscription packages for the purpose of cost dispersion. The perpetual nature of this model can end up costing more than a custom solution. 

In the case of custom software, it is built from scratch and there might be endless customizations possible. The development phase itself might take several months which might not be feasible in certain situations. But, the end product would be according to your requirements which will save time for training your operations staff. 

7. Competitive Advantage

Opting for off-the-shelf software would mean that you are choosing a solution that is available to your rivals also, and your innovative ideas can be easily copied by your competitors. 

“User adoption is a difficult thing to achieve, and if you hope to achieve it, you’re going to have to look at more than features when you are considering products.”

On the other hand, the custom software offers a competitive advantage over your competitors. This is because your competitors don’t have a customized solution and as long as your software is well designed you would soon see yourself getting ahead of your competitors.

8. Compatibility issues

Off the shelf software face compatibility issues which infers that your business operations, devices or other systems might clash with the packaged products at a base level, making it either unusable or incredibly inefficient. 

Further, when you won’t find a functionality match for your company, you will probably use various commercial products to fill in the gaps. But, this is not the only problem that you may be facing. Off-the-shelf software is overloaded with features that your company might never use. Eventually, too many functionalities can slow down your system, which will create more problems than improving efficiency

On the other hand, custom software fits in easily with the current business operations as they are built according to the requirements of the organization. 

9. Dependency on software provider

Off-the-shelf software is designed to be installed in minimum time and can be used immediately after installation. Well, the pre-built software might need to be customized as it may not be compatible with your current systems, which altogether will cancel the speed benefit. If you need to add some features, then you would require to hire a developer, which would cost you both time and money. 

A custom solution, ideally a scalable and well-architected one, would not keep you dependent on software providers. But if the need arises you can hire dedicated developers to build that particular feature. These software teams prove to be incredible – providing maximum benefits as they truly understand your business. Therefore, you should wisely choose your software provider.

Conclusion

The software industry is inundating with tons of software products that are developed on a daily basis – be it off-the-shelf or custom made. As already seen in the post above businesses or individuals nowadays are popularly opting for custom solutions. Here’s one more case study of our client, Redbull, for whom we’ve created a custom solution.

If you are in quest of a software solution that would cater to your specific needs, I would recommend choosing a custom software solution as it will satisfy all the requirements of your organization.

If you are looking for custom software development services, Simform can help you out. From consultation on solution to be developed to finalizing the end product, we own a team of specialized professionals who can address all your requirements.

Still, if you face any query or would like to add anything from your side, feel free to comment below.

code quality

Working from last 8 years into consumer and enterprise mobility, Hardik leads large scale mobility programs covering platforms, solutions, governance, standardization and best practices.

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