For a business that wants to upgrade and modernize itself with the help of software, a common dilemma for it is whether to go for custom-made software or opt for off-the-shelf software. You can find many top software development companies worldwide, but before that all, you should first decide the type of software –an off-the-shelf software or a custom one.
This blog aims to overcome the dilemma and accord some clarity to a business looking to automate its business processes.
First, let us get our basics clear.
What is Custom Software?
Custom software is software in which the developers include some specific features into the software which target specific needs of the client. As custom software is built after keeping in mind the distinct needs of the customer, it is able to solve issues that may not be solved by off-the-shelf software. Custom software is also known as tailor-made software and while selecting the software vendor to develop it, one should talk in detail about the after-sales support. This is because, without robust after-sales support, it is quite difficult to manage a custom made software.
The features of custom software are
- It is fully customizable.
- It includes only the features you want.
- It comes with post-sales support.
- Training staff about the software is possible.
What is Off-the-Shelf Software?
Off-the-shelf is an out-of-the-box software solution that isn’t customized according to your requirements. It is the same for everyone and aimed for mass selling. Although minor customization options are available, there is no way you can customize it fully catering to your business objectives. It makes a significant difference between custom software solutions and off-the-shelf software solutions. These solutions are based on the best practices; however, such a software solution may not prove to be the best fit for your business.
Thus, the basic factors you should consider about Off-the-shelf software are as follows:
- Based on industry-standard best practices.
- It has limited customization as compared to tailor-made software solutions.
- Prices are fixed and are generally affordable. They are cheaper than customizable software.
The differences between custom software and off-the-shelf software solutions
Custom software offers a wide range of functionality since you can customize them to perform any desired task. You can hire expert software developers to make the software cater to your personal or professional needs, add some functions, change the software layout, and even remove some features. This way, the software will be tailored to your company’s business objectives.
Although one might argue that off-the-shelf software offers more functionality, it depends on what sort of functionalities are offered. As off-the-shelf software cannot be tailored according to your organization’s needs, there is minimal scope for adding desired features in the software.
On the functionality front, custom software is a clear winner; however, before you go for building custom software, you need to make sure whether most of the features you want are already available in off-the-shelf software.
The features and functionalities of custom software solutions accord the custom software developers’ ability to scale up or down according to the organization’s needs. Moreover, as the custom software has been built according to a particular organization’s business objectives, it can easily integrate with the company’s existing systems.
It is very likely that while implementing off-the-shelf software, you might face some challenges. The developers of off-the-shelf software keep standard systems and devices in mind while building the tool. Hence, it is possible that your existing system may not accept it and you need to change the business ‘flow’. Frankly speaking, with many different policies, it is painful and practically impossible to build software that will smoothly integrate with all kinds of existing systems and meet all business objectives.
On the implementation part, again, the custom software seems to be winning the battle. However, you should note that it all boils down to the fact that if your business doesn’t have any existing software systems, it is very likely that off-the-shelf software might work better for you.
Support and Maintenance
Support and maintenance of software are essential because with the time you will need to upgrade software. Also, bugs are unavoidable and, therefore, having a dedicated support team helps you keep the software up and running flawlessly.
While the customer support of an off-the-shelf product will have a standard warranty, which will be the same for all the customers, for the software solution specially crafted for you, you may need to discuss the maintenance with your custom software development company.
Time and money involved
One of the drawbacks of custom software is that it takes a significant amount of time to build. As the developers of custom software need to invest time in understanding the customer’s requirements, the time taken in developing custom software is more than off-the-shelf software. Apart from this, the money involved in building custom software is also more than procuring off-the-shelf software.
While if you choose off-the-shelf software, you will be able to save time as those tools are already made. Hence, there is no need to invest time in building it. Also, generally, off-the-shelf software is much more economical to procure as compared to custom software.
Points to consider for making a viable selection amongst Off-the-Shelf and Custom Software
The need for intense customization
If your company requires customization on a much intense level, it is best to go for custom software. Many times, for specialized business or Industrial solutions like chemical process monitoring, you won’t find off-the-shelf software; even if there is one, you will come to know that it has its shortcomings.
The off-the-shelf software may not suit a business requiring a unique solution as it may clog the system with bugs and additional options. You should opt for building customized software solutions in such situations as creating custom software will ensure that the software is optimized to the exact needs of the business.
But if your requirements are pretty general, such as sending emails, file sharing, and opening up discussion forums, there is no need to shell out more money by opting for a customized software solution.
Before you go about procuring software, you will need to identify whether there is already a credible solution. For instance, before going for customized CRM development, you should check out whether the Salesforce CRM works. Similar products would be that of Hubspot CRM, Zohobooks accounting software, and many others.
By choosing these already popular products, you will be able to quickly find a solution with less budget.
The integration challenge
Before you go for custom software or an off-the-shelf one, you should decide how easy it would be to integrate the software with your existing systems and future systems like AI, IoT, and data analytics. Connected systems are the norm, and you cannot expect your software to work in silos.
Seamless integration of your software with your other systems is not just a “good to have” feature; it is essential.
For example, what will happen if marketing executives languish in the absence of access to accounting software from their smartphones? It can happen if your systems are not synchronized. Your back-office software should be in sync with the front office software, so that all your employees have easy access to data, making their work easy.
Off-the-shelf software solutions integrate seamlessly with your existing software. With custom software, you will need to ensure that the custom software development companies study your current IT systems in detail before starting to build the software. This is done to avoid future integration issues.
Generally, if you go for high-quality off-the-shelf products, you will get excellent support and timely upgrades. But it is not uncommon that delayed milestones can hamper the product’s quality. A timely upgrade is an essential fuel to keep your app running.
When you go for custom software, you are authorised to ask for any upgrade. You can ask your custom software experts to upgrade your product whenever you want and whatever you ask. Most of the companies have such a clause in their contract of post-sales and maintenance.
Size of the company
Typically, smaller companies have budget constraints in building a custom software product. Also, they generally do not require complex integrations. Thus an off-the-shelf product usually meets their needs.
On the other hand, large companies should go for a custom software solution as they have complex concerns to get addressed. Also, their inventory, human resource, and business models are greater in size which is too difficult to manage with readymade applications or software tools.
Nature of Business
In case your company deals in a niche business, then go for custom software services as a run of mill software won’t satisfy your needs. On the other hand, for companies where there is little customization in business, using off-the-shelf software would be a better idea.
Type of User
An excellent way to determine whether to go for custom software or off-the-shelf software is to assess the type of end-user. For example, if the user is a C level executive looking to accomplish relatively standard and straightforward tasks with the software, then off-the-shelf software would be the perfect fit. Furthermore, for a managerial executive wanting to accomplish more complicated tasks, more customization will be required. Hence, custom software would be the right choice.
Let’s have a quick review of the pros and cons of custom and off-the-shelf software.
Pros of Custom Software
- Custom software can be tailor-made to adapt to the needs of your company.
- With custom software, one can quickly scale up or down, depending on the organization’s needs.
- Integrating custom software with your existing systems can be much more comfortable than incorporating it with off-the-shelf software.
- Custom software vendors regularly provide personalized support.
Cons of Custom Software
- The expense incurred in building a custom software solution usually is higher It takes more time to build custom software.
- Custom software solutions require a lot of trial and error before reaching an optimal result.
Pros of off-the-shelf Software
- The installation of off-the-shelf software is quick and simple.
- As off-the-shelf software comes typically with user guides, your employees’ training becomes easier and cheaper.
- For popular off-the-shelf software like Tally ERP, you have tremendous community support.
Cons of off-the-shelf Software
- Sometimes off-the-shelf software comes with redundant or insufficient functions.
- Off-the-shelf software often has compatibility issues with the existing systems.
- The scope of customization is limited as the off-the-shelf vendors do not encourage heavy customization.
- Hidden costs like maintenance and the cost of add-ons may come with off-the-shelf software.
Making a decision
While deciding whether to go for off-the-shelf software or a custom one, the first thing that you need to do is to take into account the specific requirements of your business. If you find that you can do with plug and play software upon completing your analysis, then it would be wise to go for off-the-shelf software.
However, if your study reveals that you will need a unique solution, you will need to go for a customized software solution. You need to weigh in the pros and cons of each software type and match it with your business objectives before taking the final call. You can consult a top software development company to help you out.