Custom Software Vs. Off the Shelf
Software is a vital component of any business these days. At this point, the question is not whether or not to use software, but what kind of software is best—custom, bespoke software or packaged or off the shelf software.
There are plenty of brand name software solutions out there for just about any purpose. Yet in many situations, there remains a stark contrast between the capabilities and performance of custom software vs. off-the-shelf software.
Each software choice comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so which is best depends on a business or organization’s specific needs.
So, which should your business choose? Let’s first define what each type of software is and then discuss each one’s pros and cons.
The Difference Between Off-the-Shelf and Custom Software
Off-the-shelf software refers to any type of commercially available software with a wide range of features. It can be used by several different businesses and consumers. This can range from document-creating software to music editing to visual design. Many new businesses and organizations opt for off-the-shelf software when first starting out so they can learn through first-hand experience what their unique software needs will eventually be.
Some common examples of off-the-shelf software include design and video editing software like those made by Adobe, office suites such as Microsoft Office, GSuite, to industry specific software like Shipwell a transportation management software.
Custom software is any type of software that is specifically made for a certain business or entity. This software is available only to the organization it’s been created for and is designed solely around that organization’s operations and needs.
Examples of custom software include the following.
- Middleware – Software that offers common services and capabilities to applications other than those provided by the operating system. It functions as the connector between applications, operating systems, and databases.
- ERP – Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a type of software that organizations use to manage the day-to-day operations of a business, such as accounting, project management, and risk management. Some ERP software may also include extensive finance software that helps to predict performance and suggest budgets.
- Data Management – Data management software (DMS) is software that takes in different types of data and converts them into a single storage container or database.
- Business Intelligence Solutions – Business intelligence software retrieves, analyzes, transforms, and reports data for business intelligence. This software is often used in conjunction with data management software.
Pros and Cons of Off-the-Shelf Software
- Typically has a lower cost when compared to custom software
- Many employees will have some familiarity with it or may have used it extensively in the past
- Often has years of development behind it, along with extensive features that have been refined over time
- Usually has extensive customer support, ongoing updates, and add-ons
- Easy to research reviews, use cases, and suitability for your business
- May not provide long-term support for companies that are in a growth stage. As the business grows, the software may no longer be able to address new needs and demands that arise over time
- Lack of customization and modifications to help with unforeseen requirements
- There’s a good chance your competitors use the same software, which eliminates the possibility of a competitive edge in some instances
- Some apps a business uses may not be compatible with off-the-shelf software
- You often end up paying for features you don’t even use while paying extra for extensions, modules, and licenses that don’t come with the core software
Pros and Cons of Custom Software
- Custom software is custom-made for your business, so all of its features and functionality exist solely to support your business’s operations without any unnecessary features that could otherwise hinder its usability and intuitiveness
- Since the software was created for your specific business, there’s no need to worry about additional licensing costs down the road
- Scalability. Custom software can accommodate your business’s needs from the outset, with the potential to handle further growth down the road with untapped features and capabilities
- Custom software provides several competitive advantages for a business when compared to others using one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t offer targeted features
- The cost of creating custom software can be significantly higher than off-the-shelf software choices, especially if it is a highly-advanced software for larger businesses
- The actual development and QA process for custom software could take a very long time
- Any future upgrades or expanded capabilities will need to be purchased from the developer as needed. In some cases, a separate developer may need to create new features, which requires extensive time to understand the customized software.
How Do You Choose Between Custom and Off-The-Shelf Software?
There is no easy answer for deciding between bespoke vs. generic or packaged software—every organization’s needs and situations are different. With that said, the decision typically comes down to assessing your current situation, requirements, and anticipated needs in the future.
Newer businesses will often go the commercial route at first, before having custom software developed for it later down the road. This gives the business time to note deficiencies and issues with the software it is currently using, which can then be permanently addressed with customized software solutions. Ultimately, custom software should be tailored around your business practices rather than vice versa. It should easily streamline and enhance your operations without anything slipping through the cracks or being cumbersome.
It’s also important to note that custom software doesn’t necessarily have to be a holistic solution to all of your operations—plenty of businesses use both types together. Some organizations choose to have a certain type of custom software developed that can be integrated with the off-the-shelf solutions that they’re satisfied with and currently using.
So, Which Should You Choose?
It all depends on your circumstances and needs. It’s important for your business to evaluate all possible pros and cons in relation to its operational needs, lack of competitive advantages, anticipated growth, and overall budget. Your primary concern should be focused on any solutions that allow you to serve your customers and stakeholders more effectively while providing the most support for your operations and employees. In many cases, this may mean eventually making the move toward customized software—or even a combination of both.