Custom Software Development is a complex and potentially expensive project for an organization. As a custom software developer in the Philippines, EACOMM is approached daily by organizations looking to purchase software for their business operations. However, not all business software requirements require a custom solution. For standard systems like payroll and accounting, we typically advise our clients to look at off-the-shelf solutions first and see if these capture their requirements before deciding that a custom solution is what they really need.
For organizations looking to procure software and are deciding on whether to purchase off-the-shelf or engage a custom software developer, the following factors should be considered:
- Unique Business Requirements: This is typically the main trigger for organizations to opt for a customized solution. Off-the-shelf systems are “one size fits all” and are often expensive or time-consuming to force-fit into unique business processes. Hence, a custom solution would typically be more advisable if the business has one or more unique or complex processes that require automation. For standard tasks, it might prove much more cost-effective to find off-the-shelf products.
- Scalability: Off-the-shelf systems don’t offer the flexibility and scalability that custom software does. If the business foresees growth in the future, it is often more cost-effective to deploy a custom system that can be modified and upgraded easily as the company becomes larger.
- Integration with Existing Systems: Integration with existing systems, especially older legacy systems, is rarely an option with off-the-shelf systems. Here, custom solutions shine in ensuring that data is easily managed between different applications. Additionally, custom software can “mimic” the user interface and experience of existing systems, making it less daunting for the end-users to learn and adjust to it.
- Time to Market: For urgent requirements, an off-the-shelf solution is the only real option, as custom software requires time to design, develop, test, deploy, and train for. It is not unusual for custom software development projects to take six months, eight months, or even more than a year to develop, whereas an off-the-shelf solution can be up and running in minutes.
- Reliability: Well-built and popular off-the-shelf solutions would have proven reliability for your day-to-day processes. This is achieved by the vendor through continuous feedback from multiple clients and multiple iterations of the software being sold. However, custom software is built from the ground up, and kinks, bugs, and usability issues are unavoidable. Even the most well-built custom systems might reveal bugs and issues years down the road.
- Technical Support: For off-the-shelf solutions, you are dependent on the software vendor for technical support, maintenance, and updating of the system. This could be advantageous, especially for smaller businesses without an internal IT team. However, the cost of such support could prove expensive in the long run. For custom-developed systems, you have the option to continue engaging the original developer to provide support or assign internal resources to do it for you.
- Budget: At first glance, this decision point is heavily in favor of off-the-shelf products. These typically cost significantly less to purchase or have affordable monthly subscription costs, especially for smaller organizations. In fact, several very reliable options for off-the-shelf software are absolutely free as they are distributed as open-source applications. However, when looking at the total cost of ownership, off-the-shelf systems might be a lot more expensive. For custom-developed software, there is a hefty up-front cost as the system is being developed, followed typically by a monthly support cost—often depending on how much support you are looking to get from the original developer. However, ownership of the system is yours, and the system, if well-designed, can work for over a decade without needing an overhaul. Customizations and upgrades can even be done in-house, as typically the source code is turned over to the client. For off-the-shelf systems, the vast majority will charge ongoing cost items such as user subscriptions, licensing costs, technical support, etc. that will continue to be charged for the duration of the use of the system. Even for free, open-source software, the cost and resources needed for technical support can prove expensive. For a system that will be deployed over the course of years, this can prove quite substantial.
- Intellectual Property: Off-the-shelf systems are owned by the software vendor and licensed to their end users. Going the route of custom software development gives your organization complete ownership and control of the system deployed. This allows you full control in modifying and updating the system as you see fit without the need to even avail yourself of the services of the original developer.
- Competitive Advantage: Technology as a competitive advantage is often the key to survival in the hypercompetitive world of business in the 21st century. It is hard to gain a technological competitive advantage if the systems and software you’re running your business on are the same exact software as your competitors. Designing fully customized, innovative software with unique functionalities can give a business a distinct advantage that its competitors are completely unaware of.
Custom-developed software systems are not for every scenario. For run-of-the-mill, daily tasks, off-the-shelf systems are the better option. No business in the world today would think of acquiring a custom-built word processor, spreadsheet, or image editor when there are reliable ones that are already pre-built and ready to use. Even more complicated systems for running a business, like payroll, accounting, customer relationship management, and inventory management, might not need a fully customized solution unless the business has unique needs that can’t be met by off-the-shelf systems. But for business processes that are unique to the business or for operational aspects that the business can use as a competitive advantage, an investment in a custom-built software system could give an exponential return.