Off-the-shelf software has its place. It can be less expensive than bespoke software and takes less time to implement. However, much of what comes pre-packaged is never used. Also, there is a finite limit to canned software capabilities that can impede production and business growth. The lack of customisable options also inhibits the scalability in the long term.
By comparison, while custom software is usually more expensive than off-the-shelf products, it is bespoke and can grow with the business. That's something off-the-shelf products can't claim. Your business can also gain an advantage over your competition because you will have a solution not available to them, and you will be more productive and efficient than you would be using an off-the-shelf software package.
Redundant Practices and Business Growth
Regardless of the size or type of business you own, there are many workflow processes which you often repeat using the same scheme. Canned software can handle some of the basics, but for more responsive, tailored options, bespoke software can't be beat. For example:
- Documentation workflow: Whatever type of documentation your business requires, and the steps it uses to process the documents, can be integrated using bespoke software.
- Customer management: Set the custom software to sync your online contact form so that it categorises and stores the information. The data can then be used in myriad ways (newsletters, promotions).
- Online marketing: Custom software can be configured to add site visitors automatically to your email subscription list when they respond to a CTA, such as downloading an eBook. It can also be set up to post your published articles automatically to every one of your social media accounts.
- Data entry: Automated script eliminates much of the tedium, time and hassle associated with the data entry process, and it also reduces the chance for human error.
The fact that these tasks are redundant and universal across many industries may leave you believing that there is no need to invest in bespoke software. After all, pre-packaged software takes those routine tasks into consideration. Unfortunately though, as your business grows, those same tasks become more involved and complex. As evidenced by the above examples, there will be an increasing demand for more functionality from your canned software, and eventually it won't be able to keep up with the workflow processes of your business.
How to Get Bespoke Software
Most businesses don't have a team with the technical skills required to create bespoke software, so they turn to outside vendors to create it for them. As with anything else, not all custom software developers are alike, and even the quotes can vary wildly. That's because custom software is generally billed in man hours, and the quote you receive will take into consideration the complexity of the bespoke software and the experience level of the developers, among other variables. Here are three essential ingredients you need to evaluate prospective software developers.
- Experience - Not just in the industry, but with the specific software niche you're trying to have developed.
- Reputation - Ask for and follow up with current references. Check their site for awards or notable accomplishments, and read their customer's feedback.
- Portfolio - Look at their online samples, but also ask to see examples of the type of work you want them to do for you.
Aside from experience, reputation and portfolio samples, you'll obviously consider the price point. Don't let that steer you in the wrong direction though. Cheaper isn't always better, but paying more doesn't always mean higher quality results either. Local, nearshore and offshore outsourcing prices can vary considerably for the same services, in the same way that cost of living can vary wildly between regions. So, consider the location of the developer when comparing costs.
If you own a startup, you may find that off-the-shelf software programs suit your needs just fine. As your business grows, however, your pre-packaged software will present you with challenges that will eventually prevent your business from evolving. Rather than dealing with the hassle of wasting resources down the road, consider switching to custom software before you even begin to experience growing pains. The bespoke software will evolve with your business, instead of working against it.
Beata Green is Director of HeadChannel Ltd. She is responsible for overall strategic direction and overseeing the company’s continuing growth, building closer client relationships and maintaining best working practices. She enjoys brisk country walks with her red fox labrador and then relaxing in front of a TV crime drama with a glass of red wine.