Custom Software vs. Off the Shelf: Which is Right for Your Business?

You’ve gotten to that point where you’re weighing custom software vs an off-the-shelf solution. It’s a difficult choice because it’s a big decision.  

We understand the dilemma and the angst. Like us, you have a vision and you’re ambitious. You want to make the best decision that will speak to the greatest value.   

You obviously want something that fulfills your requirements right now, but like any executive, you’re not just thinking about today; you’re thinking about where you want to be in 5, 7, and 10 years down the road.  

That’s what makes the custom software vs off-the-shelf software dilemma such a loaded question. Growing a company is an evolutionary process. What will fulfill your needs now but also meet your requirements as you grow and evolve? 

In this article, we share the benefits and disadvantages of each so you can make the best decision for your vision and the growth and success of your business.  

 Granularity

The pros of custom software 

It goes without saying that custom software is an attractive choice because of the value it delivers. Here’s a run-through of its most compelling benefits.   

Address your specific needs 

Your company, just like every company, is different. We all have our own complexities and challenges. Usually, a one-size-fits-all model might not be the optimal solution. Multiple commercial solutions might have a combination of the functionalities you need, but never all of them. 

Custom software, on the other hand, is entirely designed and built according to your unique needs. It’s engineered to specifically address your challenges, pain points, and vision for the future.   

For that reason, it has the ability to evolve as your company evolves. Because it’s built for you, it matches your vision and your internal ambition driving your company forward. 

During the discovery phase of building a custom solution, you define what you want it to do—the functionalities and integrations to optimize your workflows and processes. As it’s designed to fulfill all your “must haves,” it also eases the stress of contemplating two different off the shelf providers.  

Modify it as you grow 

It’s not enough to simply say that custom software is made for you. When done right, it’s made to meet your drive to succeed, that all-important “why” that compelled you to start your company in the first place and urges every risk you take. 

That makes it extremely modifiable.  

There’s plenty of off-the-shelf software that can adequately address your needs right away, but will they be able to evolve as you do? Or will your needs outgrow their capability?  

Even in niche markets, off-the-shelf software is designed and developed to garner as many users as possible. That can make commercial software very rigid, limiting how you can modify it for your unique business needs, or even, how it can evolve and grow with you. 

By its nature, custom software comes with the granularity for extensive modification. It can be tweaked and built on to evolve as your demand and complexity evolve. 

Integrate it with your system infrastructure 

Custom software also provides holistic integration with your entire organization. It’s designed the way you need it to be.   

If that means it needs to integrate with the different systems your Finance, Sales, and Support teams are using, then it can be designed to do so.  

Scale with ease 

Growing a company, willing it forward to achieve the vision that drives you is a challenge. Scaling to take that vision one step closer to reality is a big part of that challenge.  

Custom software eases that growing pain. Ease of integration and customization promote scalability. A custom solution is designed according to your company’s unique DNA, allowing you to grow your headcount, expand, and diversify with ease.   

Gain a competitive advantage 

Custom software also gives you a competitive advantage. You have an ideal solution that answers your unique challenges and needs. Your competitors don’t.  

The scalability and efficiency it affords you will make you more agile in your specific marketplace, giving you a strong advantage over your competitors. 

The cons of custom software 

There are a lot of benefits that come with custom software, but as with anything, there’s another side to that coin. Below are some of the cons of custom solutions to consider when deciding what’s best for you and your growing company.  

Development time 

Your custom software provider needs to understand your company and your need to build a solution that’s perfect for you. They need to understand your complexities, challenges, and requirements, sure. But they also need to fully understand your essence, your ambition, your goals.   

That means there has to be an impactful discovery phase. Each feature and function you require needs to be defined and then developed on the engineering side from scratch. 

If you’re looking for a quick fix, custom software might not be for you. It’s not a plug and play solution. The time investment you make in the discovery phase will pay dividends in terms of efficiency and scalability in the long run to achieve the vision that drives you.  

Financial investment 

Building custom software requires development resources to actually create it. Because of this, it may cost more when compared to a commercial solution.  

The higher investment, however, has a direct relationship with value. While it may cost more, the investment is returned because it directly promotes growth by making it easier to operate and scale.   

The cons of off the shelf software 

There are multiple benefits to off the shelf software. In most cases there are a number of commercial solutions ready to address the needs you have right now. Yet, how do they meet your drive, your passion, the complexities that come with growth and achieving your ambition? 

Here’s where off-the-shelf software can fall short for you, the entrepreneur that wants to grow and thrive.   

Not unique to you 

Commercial software is built for a large market, prioritizing the highest demand for common features. It will undoubtedly fulfill certain needs, but your company will grow and eventually evolve beyond those needs.  

Many off-the-shelf vendors naturally rely on market research and customer feedback to further develop their solution. Yet any requests you make for functionalities to be added to the road map and prioritized for future releases, will simply be backlogged with the countless other requests commercial vendors receive. 

Difficult to modify 

Commercial software is built for universal adoption which makes it rigid. It lacks the ability to be modified and customized according to your evolving needs.  

That also leads to compatibility issues when trying to integrate it with your infrastructure, creating inefficiencies and potential blockers that impact your ability to scale. 

Rolling payment structures 

Initial investments for off-the-shelf solutions can also seem cost effective, but the majority of commercial software vendors have pricing models that bill monthly, leaving a constant stream of invoices.   

In addition, as your business grows, premium features might need to be activated that will only increase those monthly bills. 

Overwhelming number of functionalities and features 

Off-the-shelf software comes with extensive features and functions. They’re trying to appeal to a broader market, so their packages are bundled with a lot more moving parts than needed.   

Sometimes extraneous functionality can complicate even the most basic processes you originally signed up for.  

No competitive advantage 

Your success, at times, can be contingent on your differentiators – what separates you from your competition.   

Off-the-shelf software is available to anyone willing to pay for it, meaning if you can get it, so can your competitors.  

Make the right choice for your business 

All entrepreneurs are plagued and exalted by the same constant question: How do we get to the next level?  

In this case, you’re trying to decide whether it’s custom software or an off the shelf solution that will get you there.   

Both types of software have their merits.  

Off-the-shelf software is readily available, can be installed quickly, and is the cheaper option. With that in mind, it’s important to weigh quick wins against long-term losses. Commercial software can be inflexible and present scalability challenges at a pivotal time when you’re trying to grow and move forward.  

Custom software is a bigger investment but is built specifically to answer your unique challenges and requirements, putting you in a position to scale with more ease and fuel the ambition that drives you.  

How are your needs and requirements identified for a custom solution that’s right for you? 

Bitbean takes the time to holistically understand you. What drives you? What are your goals? What is your story and where do you want the narrative to go?  

Our Shifting Perspectives® approach deep dives into the core of your business to understand what’s impeding growth and what’s needed to maximize it. 

Get in touch today and we’ll tell you how our Shifting Perspectives® approach will get you where you want to go.  

 

Posted by Ephraim Arnstein