Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf solutions

Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf solutions


Across pretty much all industries, clients enjoy a certain degree of personalization for their products or services. There is no difference to that within the information technology sphere. Custom software development aims at fulfilling that desire.

In many cases, tailor-made solutions can be more efficient and flexible for particular business needs. Matching these to the fullest will most likely affect your business positively in the long run.

Despite often higher initial costs, long-term investments such as custom software development almost always pay off.

The following article will focus on the pros and cons of custom software development, as we as comparing it to commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS).

Throughout the article, we will try to answer the following questions:
What is custom software development?
What are the advantages of custom software development?
What are the differences between custom and off-the-shelf software?
What is the cost of custom software development?
How to develop custom software?

What Is Custom Software Development?

Custom software development is the process of designing software applications that meet the specific needs of a company or an individual. Custom solutions are usually aimed at specific problems, unlike COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) software, and are meant for in-house use, not resale.

Microsoft Office is a very popular example of COTS software. On the other hand, an application that records a patient’s documents and visits to a local clinic is an example of custom software.

Custom software is also referred to as bespoke software, which comes from old English and has toots in the tailoring trade. The way bespoke or custom software solutions are built is very similar to how traditional solutions would be made.

Although the methodologies may be similar, custom software development is distinguished by often focusing on application customization, modernization, or management.

Take note of the following definitions:

application modernization - the practice of upgrading or updating existing technology to modern standards

application customization - referring to custom software development, this would be the practice of modifying commercial off-the-shelf applications toward specific needs

application management - the process of optimizing software to support processes such as installing, updating, and other maintenance-related functions

The Advantages of Custom Software Development

It is very difficult to be clear on whether your business is in need of a custom-made software solution or not. Below, we have stated a couple of ways that businesses can benefit from as they take the leap into tailor-made software.

1. Problem-focused solutions
One of the most important reasons to invest in custom software development is to create a product that addresses one’s exact needs. Often businesses choose a COTS option just to end up realizing that it is very much unsuitable for their actual needs.

Every business is characterized by its unique needs and it is extremely difficult to find a “one-size-fits-all” software solution. Choosing a tailor-made software product allows for growth and means that one is serious about their business success.

2. Scalability
As businesses are growing, so do their needs. COTS software solutions usually become a problem that is holding down a company once they are not able to fully support its needs or become too expensive to license.

For small companies, off-the-shelf solutions may often be a better option, as the operations are not yet stable and the focus laid on making the company viable.

Developing solutions that have the capacity to scale particular business processes is a very savvy choice. If one can afford such an investment, it is worth it for their business. Once again, if one’s business is relating to software to support its key processes, the business can only grow as much as it is supported by the software tools.

3. Software Integration
Through custom software development, you can integrate both new and existing software in order to refine key business processes.

On the contrary, COTS software solutions may lead to errors, which result in a loss in productivity.

Custom software can mitigate the risk of integration issues and allows for ease of fit within any business’ software ecosystem.

4. Hardware Costs
Licensing off-the-shelf software may include additional hardware purchases in order to run efficiently, and this could lead to a serious bill when drawing the line.

The development of custom software takes into consideration the current hardware capabilities of the company, helping you avoid extra costs. It doesn’t force you to adapt to what is available.

In order to make the implementation of software as seamless as possible, the development and integration of tailor-made solutions consider every aspect of your business.

5. Increased Reliability
When purchasing a COTS solution, you are dependent on its developers. Its pricing, terms and conditions, and future of the company that’s maintaining your key software tools, are all out of your hands.

If eventually something goes wrong with that company or they decide to leave your product behind, not maintaining it.

Comparison Of Custom And COTS Solutions

If you are not sure if custom-made solutions are right for you, you will see a side-by-side comparison between the pros and cons of custom software versus off-the-shelf software.

1. Speed
As off-the-shelf solutions very rarely aim at uniqueness, this allows for faster delivery compared to custom software. It is also the reason this type of software is referred to as “off-the-shelf”.

2. Price
Add-ons on all types of products and services usually increase their cost. It is the same for custom software. For that reason, choosing COTS software will often be the more budget-friendly option.

3. Customization
Custom software, at its core, is aimed at overcoming specific challenges of specific business processes, thus it never fails to exactly meet requirements, including the capability of scaling as the business grows.

4. Community
As custom software is aimed at solving specific problems within a specific workflow, you won’t have access to a multitude of reviews while making the final decision about investing. For many it’s is very important that people have expressed themselves positively about a certain product.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case with custom software. Most likely there would be no answers to your questions online - you will have to turn to your in-house developers or the company that has delivered your software. There would be a much larger community involved with your issues if you go with a COTS solution.

5. Competition
On the other hand, as custom solutions are aimed at specific problems and provide a unique solution to particular problems, competition within your industry would often fall behind as they go with COTS solutions that are far less efficient than your custom-crafted tools.

Creating Custom Software

As you could already guess, yes - creating custom software is a seriously complicated process. As we will introduce you to the basic steps, please keep in mind that in practice these are much more expansive.

1. Identifying Problems
Just as in many other processes, awareness is the first key step. You need to be perfectly aware of the specific business needs of your company in order to address these problems directly when implementing custom tools.

This can be anything from a simple solution that allows your clients to access information easily, or something much more complex, such as an accounting application for specific transactions.

2. Brainstorming Possibilities
After identifying the issues you want to resolve, you can then brainstorm the possible solutions with your dedicated team. You might come up with a list of needs or even more distinctive features (i.e., a customer dashboard).

3. Defining Goals
Your business can center its goals around measurable metrics, which can vary between companies and industries. On the other hand, the harder part would be to accept the challenge and execute in order to meet these goals.

4. Identifying Development Needs
During this phase, you will have to make a decision on how you want to get the job done. In case you have access to an in-house development team, this would be of great advantage.

If that is not the case, you have the opportunity to outsource a software development team that is prepared to meet your need. They will review your ideas and communicate possible ways of turning them into reality, as well as update you on its further development.

5. Creating The Software
Now that you have decided whether you want to build the product in-house or outsource a team that would help you with the development of the solution, it’s time to engage with its actual creation.

Here it’s very important to note that at this point, it’s crucial to invest quite a bit of time into planning and designing the software before the developers get to coding.

The bigger and more complex the project, the more that should be allocated into perfecting its initial sketches.

Having completed the five steps we’ve mentioned above, you should be good to go. Build, deploy and refine your new tool.

What Does Development of Custom Software Cost?

The price of this service will vary greatly between the different projects as it is highly dependent on the scale and complexity of the process. Usually, software agencies charge for each hour they spend on your project. Although there are many factors that could play a role here, we have presented a few main ones.

Generally, after having answered these questions, a price estimation can take place:

What’s the size of the software solution?
Is there any data migration?
How would you like the solution to be designed?
Is the solution being integrated with another software?
How complex is the solution?

Given a few of the most prominent cost-affecting factors, custom software solutions could up anything between $2000 and +$1,000,000.

Best Practices for Developing Custom Software

As you now know how to go about building custom solutions, here are some further guidelines to help you ensure a practical development for your software tool that’s in compliance with the highest standards.

1. Double-checking Requirements and Possibilities
Although you have already talked with your development team about what you require from the solution you are creating, it’s very important to make sure that everything is communicated correctly and ensure no misinterpretations down the line.

Sometimes it may be you not communicating in the best way, and others it may be the other side not understanding correctly things, that come out deceivingly simple at first glance. This is why double-checking with the other side is a crucial step.

2. Setting Milestones
On the other hand, it’s not less important to specify a roadmap for the development phase of your new project. This way, you will illuminate key parts such as roles and responsibilities, deliverables, initiatives, and cost.

3. Performing Tests
Frequent testing enables developers to ensure that everything is in place. Here, one should not only pay attention to the technical side of things but also pay attention to the user experience.

4. Providing Comprehensive Documentation
Although this part is very well-known in the software industry, it’s still very important to mention. Each stage of the process needs to be recorded in detail - from testing to deployment and beyond. Ignorance of how and why the solution is functioning is never an unacceptable excuse

5. Choosing the Right Team
Even in a case where you have an in-house development team, it is crucial that the developers are in possession of the expertise necessary to develop potentially complex custom software. If there are mismatches between the skills needed and what your team can do, you risk the integrity of both the product and your business.

Many times, in the case of custom software, it’s a good idea to look for developers outside of your own team - these would be specialists in the technologies you are aiming at. Usually, during this process, people ask questions that go beyond the coding, like:

Can this person communicate well?
Can they work well remotely?
Do they have self-management skills?

When we look for developers, usually we are looking for someone special, and we are good at spotting talent that carries the characteristics needed. We also watch how our new team behaves while coding - the way they approach certain problems, and ultimately, the way they think. We also enable our team members to learn and become specialists in the desired sphere, as we provide them with the tools and opportunities to do so.

Final Thought

Costly, but nevertheless very effective, building custom software solutions are a way for business to scale and directly solve problems within key processes. With a development team at hand, businesses only need to locate the key problem areas and design a plan on the ways of approaching them.

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