Custom vs off-the-shelf software
Off-the-shelf software is an application available to a large audience with fundamentally similar needs (like Shopify, which can be used by anyone interested in e-commerce). It is developed for the mass-market and is expected to address the requirements of as many users as possible with minimal modification. Commercial off-the-shelf software targets a broad set of requirements, allowing it to be commercially marketed and distributed to individuals and smaller businesses.
In contrast, bespoke software development aims to address the needs of a specific user or business function through a process of designing, building, integrating, scaling, and upgrading dedicated software solutions. Therefore, providing a tailored approach, custom software can be highly beneficial for many companies that struggle to find a secure, scalable, and yoga-flexible solution.
Advantages of bespoke software solutions
Lower integration costs
By design, a custom software solution is built with the client’s systems in mind, meaning that integration is baked in. This is particularly important in industries like Finance or Automotive, where large legacy systems prevail. One scenario where this is important involves combining the functionality of multiple programs into a ‘one-stop-shop’ solution. Some companies opt to use a custom solution when the costs of purchasing licenses and integration tools for multiple programs in their operations are too high. In such cases, a bespoke software where they can carry out all their work saves time and money for the company while increasing overall productivity.
Easy training and ongoing support
Having been developed with the company’s business needs and functions as core features, there is minimal training required for custom software uptake. There is an inherent business-software fit where staff do not need to adjust their normal work process (which can come in handy in industries like Transportation or Entertainment).
Support is usually in-house and thus highly accessible to anyone requiring assistance with the software solution. Even with an external software developer, the custom nature of the software creates a more intimate vendor-customer relationship that reduces support time and ensures longevity of the solution.
Reduced integration and training costs mentioned above are always good for the bottom line for a number of reasons. Bespoke software solutions help companies deliver products that are well differentiated from their competition. This differentiation is realized through higher efficiency and flexibility and can quickly translate into higher profit margins.
Having been commissioned with internal requirements, a company’s custom software is completely in their control. This creates a very small attack vector for malicious groups who would otherwise have access to off-the-shelf software to tinker with. Complete control over custom software also allows a company to adjust and re-engineer the solution to their needs as they arise without worrying about licensing agreements.
All companies run with a goal to grow revenue and headcount over time. Off-the-shelf software is designed for a broad base of a few users per license; commonly between 1 and 100. However, a company’s scaling plan may be different from the norm such that within a short time, the off-the-shelf software that was working fine is no longer compatible with the current requirements for example in cases where a company goes from serving 100 users to serving 100,000 in a few months. With the correct design, bespoke software is rarely hampered by such rapid changes in functional requirements.
Easier and faster updates
Bespoke software can be upgraded internally whenever security or any other features require upgraded functionality. In the case of off-the-shelf software, one can only make a change request but the implementation of the change will depend on the requests being similar for a large number of clients/users. Additionally, the vision and goals of the software vendor are very influential in changes made to commercial software. There are many cases where an older, less secure version of an off-the-shelf application is still in use because the developer removed a feature that was important for that particular use case.
Target industries for bespoke software development
Bespoke app development is usually the choice of larger, enterprise-level businesses that are well-aware of their business objectives - and the available off-the-shelf software can’t satisfy their needs. There are also certain industries that are more likely to benefit from choosing a tailor-made solution instead of an off-the-shelf one. Here are some examples.
Modern manufacturing is highly competitive with the rise of make-to-order markets that put pressure on inflexible traditional systems. The introduction of automated manufacturing processes presents a unique opportunity. Leading companies now opt to integrate custom monitoring software with better production and planning control (PPC) systems.
Over the past few decades, technology has transformed the education industry from a highly site-based, institution-focused industry to a distributed, gamified microlearning environment through Massive Open Online Courses. These systems have to still adhere to regulations and education standards, which vary from field to field and country to country. Learning Management Systems have thrived in this space with a projected market value of $22.4 billion by 2023.
The healthcare industry handles very sensitive information that can expose it to severe regulatory fines and lawsuits if not secured properly. One of the advantages custom software provides is the full control to develop enhanced security features not commonly found in off-the-shelf solutions.
Custom-written software allows specialized data collection and analytics to improve process flows. For example, tracking patient responses to treatments through integrated data management across stakeholders (doctors/nurses, service providers, and patients) can help accelerate improved healthcare regimens.
This is also an industry that uses a variety of custom machinery that necessitates custom solutions to help manage this hardware in an efficient and cost-effective manner beyond what the manufacturers provide.
Many large companies in the insurance and underwriting space have had to evolve their processes from paper-based systems to online and mobile platforms. There are many FinTech and customer relationship management (CRM) software solutions available, but the challenge is the high level of regulation and risk inherent in trusting a third party. Therefore, large insurance companies have turned to custom software to address their new requirements of agile solutions deployment.
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
This industry builds custom solutions as part of their business model. Due to the distributed nature of the hardware in the cloud, clients can build their custom software supported by the SaaS solution in the backend to reduce up-front costs. Access through a ‘thin-client’ such as a browser makes it easier for the solutions to be deployed to small or large customers. Even though licensing fees still apply here, the solutions are scalable and highly customizable to allow easy integration with company systems.