Off-the-Shelf VS Custom Software: Which is Better for Your Business?
The modernization in technology brought about several radical changes, especially in the industry of business and trade. Nowadays, even brick-and-mortar businesses need a digital footprint for its longevity in the market. However, embarking on a journey into the digital world entails the need to implement business features that are made available by particular software solutions. While there are already several off-the-shelf applications that meet the most general business needs, there might still be a need for a custom software solution.
Generally, off-the-shelf software solutions are considered as a plug-and-play technology, which are ready to be used once installed. These are available online and in different platforms. A custom software application on the other hand is tailored accordingly to a particular set of specifications. These are usually proprietary in nature, with information only intended for a particular client. Below are certain factors to consider in choosing between off-the-shelf market solutions and custom software applications.
First and foremost, consider your business niche. Corporate solutions typically employ custom software because of proprietary and confidential information. On the other hand, online businesses such as e-Commerce stores, blogs, or affiliate marketing sites leverage on off-the-shelf solutions.
- Use an off-the-shelf software solution when your business needs easy to use and easy to install applications that are intended to run on different web browsers or mobile devices, regardless of the platform or operating systems. Most off-the-shelf solutions have this character because these are designed for several different users with varied level of technical background. Thereby, off-the-shelf solutions are considerably more reliable when compared to custom software applications because the former undergoes a thorough user acceptance testing before its beta version is even released. However, off-the-shelf solutions tend to have different features that may be considered a nuisance for some because these are unnecessary, but are still part of the software for the reason that it is meant to adapt to the various needs of different users.
- Use a custom software application when you have plans of scaling your business in the near future. You may enlist the services of a software development company to build a software solution with the flexibility to accommodate growing data. Since a custom software application is intended solely for the purpose of your business, your software can be tweaked immediately to have the capacity to scale instantaneously. Off-the-shelf solutions usually impose a certain data limitation, without the capability to scale accordingly. However, since a custom software application is not tested for various universal use cases, certain challenges and bugs only arise upon actual production implementation.
Time frame of implementation
A business management team usually prepares a business plan before implementing any new feature or before offering any new product or service. A time frame set for the implementation of certain tasks to track project milestones is normally included in this business plan.
- Use an off-the-shelf software solution when there is an immediate need to address a certain business challenge. Since most off-the-shelf solutions can easily be installed and immediately utilized, it is a great idea to use this software when faced with a business challenge that needs immediate attention. For instance, when there is a sudden surge in the data because of the number of users accessing the system, a proper data storage solution needs to be implemented immediately. Not doing so may lead to server breakdowns or inefficient use of system resources. Several data storage solutions are already available off-the-shelf. This can either be a temporary solution or a permanent one, depending on how your business runs.
- Use a custom software application when you have ample time to prepare for the implementation of a task or service for your business. Since custom software solutions usually take a longer time to develop, these are more appropriately installed according to a project plan. Hence, most custom software solutions are not suitable to address business challenges with immediate need. Although it still holds true that custom software solutions have the capability to address almost all the challenges faced by a certain business, but it happens over a period of time.
All businesses require efficient and effective software solutions, be it an off-the-shelf software solution, or a custom software application. Nevertheless, the performance requirement of a business is a significant factor in choosing between the two solutions.
- Use an off-the-shelf software solution when the business requirement is met by the specifications of the software solution. The performance of off-the-shelf software solutions is generally standard in terms of the build, test, and implementation phases. The enhancements, patches, and bug fixes are only made available after a substantial amount of user feedback, wherein not all concerns may be addressed in newly released versions. While the off-the-shelf software solutions are generally easier to implement, they may not meet all the performance requirements of the business in the long run.
- Use a custom software application when the business requirement cannot be addressed by any of the existing off-the-shelf software solutions available in the market. The performance of custom software applications is generally impeccable because it is tailor fit to the requirements of the business. Hence, from the build, test, and implementation phases, the software solution is able to leverage on the specifications of the hardware and other environments utilized to run the software accordingly.
Budget and Costs
Almost all business decisions are based on the costs that will be incurred against, or for the business. This is true even with the software solutions that businesses need to run on a digital setup. Both off-the-shelf solutions and custom software applications have pros and cons in terms of business costs.
- Use an off-the-shelf software solution when your business has a limited initial budget. Off-the-shelf solutions are typically cheaper initially, compared to custom software applications. Since these are intended for various use cases and compatible with a whole lot of other applications, off-the-shelf solutions are commonly regulated by a standard pricing. The cost of developing an off-the-shelf software solution is also distributed among numerous users, which is why it is relatively cheaper. Additionally, in-house developers have the capability to install and configure off-the-shelf solutions. Hence, a certain business no longer needs to enlist the services of a different software development company. This breaks them free from the lifetime cost of having a software support. However, this may change in the long run because off-the-shelf solutions also have limitations. Therefore, additional software may be needed in accordance to business changes and future optimizations, incurring additional costs.
- Use a custom software application when the business has sufficient funds from the beginning. Custom software solutions usually have higher initial costs because this is made specifically for a particular business requirement. Hence, the development costs are shouldered by the individual client or business. However, custom software applications may prove to be cheaper in the long run because of its design to be scalable and flexible in terms of continuous business improvement and optimization. A custom software solution may eliminate the need for any additional hardware or software as the business grows because this can be designed with the flexibility to grow as the business grows. The costs for future enhancements and upgrades are usually included in the service agreement between the developers and the business entity. With this being fixed, a business can also plan its expenses accordingly in terms of the custom software application.
Support and Maintenance
Any software developed and released to production needs to have an ample support. This is especially true when the software is utilized by a business to address a specific need. The software support plays an important role in choosing between a custom software application and an off-the-shelf software solution.
- Use an off-the-shelf software solution when your business is stable and you have no immediate plans to scale because only user communities are the primary support groups of off-the-shelf software solutions. Off-the-shelf software solutions are generally also open-source software, with information and updates made available in different developer communities and forums. In other words, if the business improvements show a steady growth, then an off-the-shelf solution will be more appropriate and cost effective. This is because off-the-shelf solutions tend to be slow compared to the changing industry needs, wherein most of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding different bugs and challenges are already addressed in developer community forums.
- Use a custom software application when your business has a constant or radically changing needs. Since custom software applications are tailor-fit for a specific business, it follows that there will also be a support agreement between the software developer and the business entity. Apart from a complete ownership of the software, the business no longer needs to seek through several developer community forums because they have a dedicated developer to support their software solution. This paves the way for an easier code and software maintenance, especially when the need for bug fixing and code refactoring emerges. As a result, the business will have unlimited options in terms of additional features that need to be implemented as it grows. This makes the business more flexible. The drawback however is the risk of hiring the off beam developers who are not keen in providing the accurate solutions to the business challenges in terms of the custom software applications.
A hybrid approach
While there are already several off-the-shelf software solutions that cater to a wide range of business needs and specifications, choosing which, among the available solutions in the market is still not an easy feat. There are still a lot of considerations even in just choosing the right off-the-shelf software solution for your business. Some of these factors are user interface and user experience, as well as the supporting hardware and infrastructure requirements. Additionally, when the off-the-shelf software solutions are relatively raw and brand new, there may be more unnecessary features. In the same manner, it is also difficult to choose the perfect round of software developers that will deliver the best custom software application that will address your specific business needs. This is very important when extensive and deep customizations are needed. This is the reason why a hybrid approach may be the best option.
With the pros and cons of the different factors to consider in choosing between a custom software application and an off-the-shelf software application, a trade off or an integration between the two may just be the best solution for your business. There are already quite a number of companies that incorporate the use of a hybrid solution, integrating and off-the-shelf software solution, with a custom software application. For instance, these businesses leverage on the open-source software solutions in the market and customize certain plugins that will be specifically for their use case. In this case, they have the best of both worlds, with the integral features of the off-the-shelf software solution and the specific capabilities of the custom software applications. The key point is just to make the two software communicate with each other, which may entail the need for another off-the-shelf application programming interface (API) or a custom digital handshake, whichever is more appropriate. This will pave the way for a more competitive advantage.
In conclusion, there are already several off-the-shelf applications that you can utilize for your business needs, although there might be a risk that some of these are outdated because of the lack of ample support. In the same manner, there are already several software providers that offer customizations to ensure that your business requirements are met, although finding the perfect developers to build the tailor fit solution is rarely a breeze. Nevertheless, the choice between an off-the-shelf solution and a custom software still greatly depends on your particular business needs. While off-the-shelf software solutions are typically easier to install and configure, the time it takes to develop a custom software application may prove to be worth it in the long run, especially for a seamless business integration. Finally, both off-the-shelf software solutions and custom software applications have advantages and drawbacks that can be complemented and filled in by the other.