Off the shelf, or custom built?

These days it really does seem like there’s an app for everything. If you’re in business, it’s never been easier to quickly boost productivity using off-the-shelf apps for almost any business function you can think of.

And if you’re a small business or just starting out then this almost certainly the best way to go. The benefits of off-the-shelf software are very easy to understand from a small business owner’s perspective.

  • Time is a precious commodity and canned software provides the quickest path to productivity.
  • Budgets are generally tight and cloud based software solutions generally don’t require high up front costs. In fact most products are offered at low monthly fees that can be scaled up as your business grows.
  • Unless your business is already in the tech sector, then it’s likely you won’t have the technical ability to either brief or manage a successful software delivery project.
  • And if technology leadership doesn’t translate into a competitive advantage, then it’s simply not worth the investment. Off-the-shelf, even if everyone else is using it, is just fine.

With all that being said, custom software that’s tailored to your business will, if delivered well, result in a while host of benefits. Whilst SaaS solutions address many of the needs of most companies, if you have specialised requirements it’s unlikely you’ll find a solution off-the-shelf.

And while you may be able to find a suite of products that individually look after specific areas of your business, the lack of integration will create inefficiencies and opportunities for error that could affect your customers.

A good bespoke solution will provide a fully integrated platform for your business, from helping you manage customers, staff, orders, products and anything else you can think of with a “single view of the truth”, one set of data that reconciles across all business units and processes.

If you can answer yes to the following questions, then a custom solution may well be a great investment for your business.

  1. Will better software translate to competitive advantage for your business.
  2. Does your business have sufficient scale to amortise the cost of development across a large number of customers.
  3. Will a custom software platform improve your ability to quickly change direction to meet competitive demands and take advantage of new opportunities.

Obviously there’s an upfront cost involved with developing custom software, and that is clearly a major barrier to entry for smaller companies. However if you are wanting to build a business that scales, and have the resources to do it, then custom software development may be the difference between offering a commoditised product offering vs a highly differentiated one at a better price point.

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