Should you Build or Buy Software – Comparing Bespoke Software vs Off The Shelf Software. Your company’s choice of software is critical to your business’ performance. Off-the-shelf software is a product that you buy and use without customisation – take Microsoft’s Office Suite or Adobe Photoshop for example. Bespoke software is designed and built on demand with a specific purpose in mind for the organisation that has commissioned the build.
For many years, leaders have questioned whether it is better to make or buy software solutions to the many business problems they face. Pros and cons are weighed as they try their best to do what most cost effective and efficient for their businesses. It proves difficult, though, to accurately estimate the long-term consequences of that decision, which often leaves those on the front lines struggling to pick up the slack.
In this piece, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages for both bespoke and off-the-shelf software solutions.But first, let’s check the influence of the cloud in all this
The Influence of the Cloud
The question to buy software or build it internally to solve business needs is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s world. Building software has frequently won out in this debate in the past, but with the introduction of cloud computing, the tables are turning.
This is due in part to the fact that the pace of technology innovation is accelerating at an almost exponential rate, making it difficult for the average internal IT groups to cope with the pace of change. The struggle commonly lies in the fact that they not only they have to create the software internally – they must also maintain and upgrade it indefinitely.
Now, even large global enterprises in both public and private sectors that have invested tens of millions of dollars in internal IT infrastructure are beginning to migrate to cloud applications. In fact, the Gartner Group sees the public cloud for the hosting of enterprise applications as the fastest growing IT market in the next ten years.
The largest enterprise software companies in the world (IBM, Oracle, SAP, etc.) see their future delivery platform as the cloud, so their customers are rapidly retiring in-house IT environments, dramatically reducing their IT operational costs as well as their historical reliance on internal IT staff for
software development and support.
When Should You Build?
- For ad hoc applications specific to a single business process.
- You have a problem that is unique to your organization, and no available
software adequately addresses it.
- To solve a siloed problem that doesn’t affect other areas of your business
- If you have a strong IT department that will remain with the company for a
long time with the resources to build, maintain and support the application
When Should You Buy?
- Use of the software package is critical to your business operations
- You have a common problem that available software is adequately
developed and customizable to address.
- The software would be used throughout your organization, and interact with other applications
- Your IT department is not equipped to build the application, or maintain
and support it long-term
Pros and Cons of Both Options
1. Flexibility and Customisability
Whatever task you want to complete, there’s software to tackle it. However, with off-the-shelf software you often make compromises. It’s more generic because it has been built for a much wider audience. That’s not to say that the software won’t do what you want, but there is likely to be a host of features that you don’t need. Microsoft Word; how often do you use its Smart Lookup or referencing functions? Handy for some, but not why most people buy it.
You have total control of the features in a bespoke application. It’s designed to tackle your unique requirements. As your company grows and changes, so can your bespoke software.
It implements agile project management, so you see the progress of the software throughout its development. This level of transparency allows for valuable feedback, meaning the project is flexible throughout its development, and beyond.
Off-the-shelf software is suitable for a mass-market, so has typically undergone vast testing – from focus groups to beta testers. You receive a product with carefully considered functionality.
It is likely that it has been created by numerous developers. However, there’s no guarantee it won’t be overly complicated for what you need it to do, or not quite do what you want it to.
The functionality represents what works best for you. It’s built alongside your current processes. It’s previewed and tested by you, so if there is any aspect of the functionality that you don’t like, you can simply request it to be changed.
The functionality is built and tested by you and a team of highly skilled developers, allowing for a free exchange of ideas, where you can shape exactly what the product delivers.
3. Help and Support
Off-the-shelf software is used by a larger number of people; there is likely a support and help function on hand to respond to questions, and even forums and online communities that may have asked and answered many of your questions.
If there isn’t an answer to your question, you can be left frustrated and stuck without a solution to your problem based on the limitations of the application.
You have direct communication with the person who built your bespoke software solution, this allows you to send any questions straight to the developer, and means they can work with you to fix it.
If the software is popular, you may not need to train your team how to use it. They may already know. There could even be training courses conducted by a specialist. Alternatively, you may find the software is so complex that it requires extensive training. Take popular CRM systems such as Salesforce, for example.
With the software being engineered for your business, no one will have prior experience, so training is inevitable. However, because it’s bespoke to you, it’s built to work in line with your processes.
As part of the close working relationship with your developer, you gain hands-on experience alongside the software’s creator. If anything is too complex, it can be changed.
5. Integration into your current processes
If you introduce an off-the-shelf package into your current processes, you may find that you need to adapt to accommodate it. This could lead to resistance from team members.
It’s also worth considering what will happen when your company grows and how the software is going to work for your business in the future.
With bespoke software, integration is one of the key considerations This software can be built to incorporate existing systems and databases without data loss or negative impact on your business. And if your company grows, the software can be customised and adapt with you.
The production costs for off-the-shelf software are spread across thousands of users, so it has a lower buy-in. However, you typically need to pay for additional users. So, as you grow, you’re faced with growing fees.
Bespoke software will generally cost more initially, simply because it’s built to your unique specifications. However, your software scales alongside your company’s growth. Bespoke software adds value and saves resources by reducing waste.
Thinking About Buying Off-The-Shelf Software?
- Ready-made solution, available when you need it
- Greater flexibility / adaptability
- Thousands of hours of research and development have gone into
creating the product already
- Expert support and training are available to existing and future staff with
no additional burden on your HR or IT teams. Off-the-shelf software
typically includes additional resources like support documentation and
- Functionality is continuously enhanced through customer input,
anticipating your changing business needs rather than reacting to them.
- This allows you to benefit from the best practices, ideas, and
experiences of people with similar business needs
- You can more easily trial the software and change your mind later if you
decide it isn’t meeting your needs
- Often, you can hire people who already know how to use the software
- Developer retains rights to the code
- Product functionality is determined by vendor, and may not exactly fit
your specific needs (though many vendors are willing to work with you
to adapt the product as needed)
- Rely on vendor’s support to resolve issues
- Sometimes difficult to get budgetary approval for external software
Thinking About Building Custom Software Internally?
- Total control over development and features
- Software is specific to your needs, including reporting capabilities
- Ownership of the software code
- If your competitors don’t have a similar application, developing your
own could give you an advantage
- No dependency on vendors to solve problems with the software or
schedule training for your staff – all can be managed internally
- Time required to determine exact business needs, configure/write code,
integrate with other business systems, and adapt to user requests after
- Training and support required from your IT and/or HR staff indefinitely
- Staying current is challenging when business needs rapidly change and
the applications integrated with your software release new versions that
necessitate adaptation of your software
- Lower functionality than software vendor’s applications
- Developing software to solve your business problems is likely not one
of your organization’s core competencies
- Developing and maintaining software will compete with the existing
priorities of your IT staff
- Typically results in higher long-term costs
Whatever your requirements, it’s worth considering which solution works best for your business.
The decision to build custom software applications internally or purchase off-the-shelf solutions is becoming increasingly important in today’s world, as the changing demands of businesses in all industries require a balance of convenience, customization, and adaptability.
In making this decision, the pros and cons of buying and building must be
weighed, with particularly close attention to:
- What is the scope of the problem are you trying to address with this software, and how complex does your solution need to be to fit your business size and needs?
- Does your organization currently have (or can you hire) experts capable of building, maintaining, and supporting the solution?
- Is using the software critical to your business operations, or can you afford to wait while the solution is developed?