• Bruce Peck

Custom Software Development vs. Off-The-Shelf. Which Is Best?




I was talking to a business owner of a construction company the other day. He was wondering if it would be better to go through the process of custom software development for his business or if they should stick with the off-the-shelf solution.


He asked, is it even remotely feasible for our company to have our own company software? What does it entail? Should they just stick with what they have?


Well. Here‘s the answer.


When should a company stick with off-the-shelf software solutions?


The short answer to this question is basically anytime your whole company can run on software that is built and maintained by someone else, is reasonably priced, isn’t having negative effects on your productivity and having your own is not a competitive advantage, you should stick with the off the shelf solution.


Here are some examples of off the shelf solutions that companies run on:

  1. Pro Core: A all in one tool for construction companies

  2. Jobber: A way for service companies to estimate out and invoice for their projects and manage customers

  3. Hubspot: A CRM and marketing tool for any company

Here are some of the reasons why you should stick with a off-the-shelf solution



Pros of Off-The-Shelf Software

  1. Less expensive, in the short term

  2. Robust software from the get go

  3. Easy to implement

  4. Customer support


Less Expensive, in The Short Term


The premise of creating software as a service is that if a company fronts the cost of developing a good software program they can sell it to others for a fraction of what it would cost to build.


Generally, if an off the shelf solution can solve the majority of your company’s needs then you are better off paying the few hundred bucks a month that it takes to run it. Since software development is in the thousands of dollars.


Robust Software


Companies that build out software are incentivized to continue to build features and expand the functionality of the core product over time. So generally what you end up with is very robust.


For instance you could build your own accounting software, but look at how incredible Quickbooks feature set is. It would take you forever to rebuilt that.


Easy to Implement


When everything is already built and streamlined to uptake new users as fast as possible, it makes things easy to get started on and easy to use. Many solutions have custom integrations with software you already use which you can use right off the bat.


Customer Service


When something is wrong with the software and it’s off-the-shelf, it’s their problem. When there is something wrong with software and it’s custom, it’s your problem, or at least your dev’s problem.


It’s really nice when you can call them up, and have them resolve things through their customer service channels, rather than haven’t to sweat the technical side yourself.


When should you do your own custom software development?


What happens when the off-the-shelf software just doesn’t cut it? What if you’ve reached the scale where it doesn’t make sense to jimmy rig a bunch of different software applications together, but rather you need your own platform?


Well that‘s where custom software development comes into play. We’ve written a great article about 3 questions you should ask before you start developing software, which I would recommend reading before taking the plunge.


But here are a few reasons why custom software development may be a good idea:


Pros of Custom Software Development

  1. Integration

  2. Competitive advantage

  3. Saving money

  4. Flexibility

Integration


Many times as companies grow larger the complexities of managing the company increases, more stores, more employees, more orders etc.


Generally what you see happen is that the company compensates by adding more and more systems, software to handle this, software to handle that. And it becomes this huge cobbled together mess.


Well how do you solve that?


By creating your own. As we mentioned in the off-the-shelf section, it can be daunting if not impossible to recreate some of the major player’s functionality, but luckily you don’t have to, there are things called API’s.


What API’s allow you to do is to harness some of the power of the other applications and tie

it into your own. This plus building your own custom features for needs that are unique to your company can make a very powerful package.


Competitive Advantage


In 1975 Walmart began using IBM computers to track inventory across their 125 different locations. In a time where most of that type of work was done by hand, you can see what a massive advantage that could become.


Obviously today almost every business uses computers, but there are still part of the process that can be streamlined by creating your own proprietary software. To test if you have a real business case to solve a problem, you can check out this article on making a viable business model for your app.


Black & white Walmart photo from 1975
Walmart began to use IBM computers in 1975 to manage their inventory


Saving Money


As your company grows the things that are important shift. In a very small business, it may be paramount to save as much money as possible by going through pre packaged software.


But eventually you may realize that there are certain situations that are costing you money or credibility that could be fixed if you just had your own system.


For instance, one project we worked on (IdaFan) was created because the schools in Idaho were using an off the shelf software to their sporting events that charged them a fee on every ticket sold. Because of their scale it is much cheaper to build their own app than to continue to pay the fees.


Flexibility


When you own the home, you don’t have to ask permission to tear out a wall and build a whole new wing. The same thing is true with your own software, you are able to build what your company needs and change it to fit the changing demands that you company is put under.