When determining the best fit for your company, the following questions can help pinpoint the important needs and lead you in the direction of either custom or configurable software.
1) Will The Software Do What I Need?
Whether custom developed or bought from a box, it is important that the software does what you want and need it to do.
Custom software, by definition, should do everything you expect and be able to do all the things that you want it to do. With prepackaged software, someone else has chosen the features and designed the capabilities and limitations. If your business needs fit within these limitations, then packaged software might be a better choice. But if you want to work outside of those limitations, then you must either build on to that software with a custom add-on, or build something entirely new to fit your business exactly.
Custom built software is built to fit your current and future needs. It is built for you, and will be unique to you. A good custom software developer ensures that they understand your business goals and that the software is properly designed to accomplish those goals. Custom software can include anything from an internal application program that runs on your company computers, to a complex database, mobile application, sales kiosk, or cloud-hosted application.
In many cases, custom software has an advantage in that it is built to integrate with other custom or non-custom applications that you may already have, where as prepackaged software usually cannot. This means that a single custom program may be able to communicate with and gather information from other software systems that you already employ.
Amadeus Consulting specializes in “doing the hard stuff.” The “hard stuff” is taking innovative and cutting edge ideas and turning them into a real project. Doing the “hard stuff” means doing something that has never been done before.
In the case of enterprise software, the standard rule of thumb is that it will do about 80% of what you need, and the rest can either be accomplished through configurations, custom additions, or other additional solutions. This clearly depends on the software, which may already do everything you need, or nothing.
Unfortunately for many businesses, there simply is not existing pre-packaged solution. For example, there is no iPhone application already built and waiting to be purchased for your business, no medical database for your hospital, no augmented reality rich Internet application for your clothing store. These all must either be custom built, or bought in a very generic form and then severely modified to fit your needs.
But for other standard business needs, like “word processors” for example, there are already many very good options and choosing a custom built application would not usually be the best choice.
However, many software packages allow a decent range of configurable options that helps them meet the needs of a broad range of business types. This is something you see often in manual-entry accounting systems, or tax-preparation software, for example. With your input, they can do pretty much everything you need, with little or no configuration.
2) Will it give me a competitive advantage?
Software and technology should benefit your company and give it an advantage. Whether it be better customer/client engagement, business intelligence, process efficiency, or information tracking, custom software lets you do something your competition cannot.
Custom Software provides you with a solution that is proprietary to you. It can give you an advantage over your competition if it is more efficient, powerful, or better targeted to give you exactly what you need.
Custom Software can also be an advantage to you if it:
- Solves a problem nobody else has effectively solved
- Is easier to use
- Integrates with other software that your business uses
- Expands the capabilities of existing software
- Can be resold as a proprietary product or solution
A custom software solution provides you with something that nobody else has. Every business can potentially purchase premade and configurable software to solve a need within a business. However, as discussed above, pre-boxed software does not always do everything you need. Custom solutions are built around solving specific needs, and give you something that no other competitor has.
Custom software is also a viable solution to replace outgrown pre-boxed software. For example, using Microsoft Excel to do product or inventory management, at some point your business will outgrow it. When it does, you can try to find prepackaged software that can do what you need, or you can build a custom system that automates tracking and inventory.
Many companies also find that they can benefit by building custom additions to existing products. For example, the popular sales tracking software called Salesforce allows the addition of custom software elements, which can provide an additional layer of benefit to a company by integrating with other products, and providing more targeted analysis.
Custom software additions are common since they tend to be cheaper than fully custom-built software, but still provide many of the benefits of fully custom software. As always, each situation and need is different, so it is impossible to label on choice as always better than the other, but each has advantages.
For normal business operations and management, out-of-the-box software is often a very good choice, and provides a clear benefit over custom built software.
This is because business operations like HR, accounting, sales tracking, etc, are fairly standard across all businesses which mean that standard software will address the most common needs. The software can also be configured to better utilize features specific to you.
By doing this, a competitive advantage is achieved through cost savings and using a familiar standardized system. This may reduce training time, and increase the number of potential new employees who are already familiar with your software.
Some existing out-of-the-box solutions can also be customized by adding small layers of code, or additional add-ons that enhance the functionality of the original product. This sometimes can bridge the gap between function and cost, as it is cheaper than building a system from scratch, but still provides the functionality that you need. This is frequently used in intermediate database solutions, website development, and ecommerce, among others.
Cost is one of the most important considerations to any software system. The second most important is the return on your investment.
With custom software, costs can vary widely because custom software systems are built in a large variety of sizes and needs. In general, custom software is more expensive than an out-of-the-box solution, but the customization provides benefits that prepackaged solutions cannot.
One of the benefits to custom software is that you own it in it’s entirely. This means that there are no licensing fees or subscriptions or any other reoccurring fee that you will need to pay. Also, like out-of-the-box software, most respectable development companies also offer a reasonable warranty period to address any bugs, as well as optional support and maintenance.
Owning the code to your software is an important aspect of custom software. In the case of mobile applications (“apps”), for example, it means that you can turn around and sell it. It also means that you are not bound to a certain developer or development company, and you can do anything with your software or make any upgrades or modifications as your needs change.
Support and maintenance can also be beneficial to you because it means that all upgrades and issues are managed by the developer, rather than your IT department which is usually very busy with other projects critical to your business.
However, since development costs cannot be distributed over thousands of sales of the same product, custom software generally comes with a higher initial cost.
Packaged software is often the cheaper option, in a simple face-to-face comparison, although it does come with some costs that should be considered. Packaged software is generally cheaper because the development costs are spread over thousands of units.
The first is licensing fees. Many software products require paying a reoccurring fee for each person or machine that uses the software. This can be a great solution initially, since it is a rather small investment, but will add up over time and as the organization grows. Maintenance and support is sometimes included in the licensing agreement, and sometimes it is sold as a separate service.
However, with packaged software your company’s IT department normally handles configuration issues and usually only consults with the manufacturer if there are larger issues. This can be great if your company has a large or well-staffed IT department that can quickly address issues, but it also means the IT department bears the burden of ensuring that everything functions properly and is configured correctly.
We are clearly biased towards custom software solutions simply because we create solutions where none previously existed. For most of the things we do, there simply is not an out-of-the-box alternative.
At Amadeus Consulting, we use plenty of packaged software simply for the above reasons – it is standard, inexpensive, and does everything we need. We’ve also done some customization and built some of our own software from scratch. We have a great variety of software, and together it all functions to meet our needs and serve our clients.
We pride ourselves on building entirely new and fully custom systems, but we also recognize that many times businesses do not need a full custom system. One of our services includes semi-custom websites, which look like fully custom sites, but run on a standard content management system platform. This means that all the interface, graphics, content, and appearance are all custom-designed to fit the look, feel and function that your business needs. But it all runs on a standard platform with proven stability, security, and compatibility, which keeps initial costs and maintenance costs much lower.
Basically, it helps fit your business needs exactly. Which is really what custom software should do.