Custom written software vs. off-the-shelf solutions

When you’re a decision maker looking to find new software to run your business, there’s a plethora of options out there.

Let’s face it. There are 100 other things you would rather be doing than finding the software to run your business. Like actually running your business. Oftentimes, it feels like the software you’re using is working against you rather than with you. Or maybe you don’t use software at all, rather relying on good-old-fashioned paper. This article will help you understand the differences between custom written software and off-the shelf solutions.

However, finding the right software to fit your business is an important decision. Get it wrong, and you’ll be forced to keep tweaking your setup, or worse still scrapping it and starting again from square one. So there’s a lot to be said for taking the time to make the right decision the first time.

This post will take you through the options available to you from the offset and go through the pros and cons of each.

Off-the-shelf software

Firstly, what is off the shelf software? By this, we’re talking about the likes of ZohoSalesforce or Sage. Primarily, modular systems that you customise to suit your business, using or not using features depending on if they suit your use case. By way of example, let’s take a hotel booking system. That system would need to manage their customers and bookings, so it could be broadly said that they need a Customer Relationship Management system to handle their customers, and a calendar to manage their rooms and availability. Zoho offers all of these features. You simply select the CRM module and the calendar module. Simple, right?

What’s more it’s cheap. Zoho charges $15 per user, so if you only have a few staff, it’s definitely affordable. And it’s easy. Super easy. With quick-start wizards, instant setup and even on-hand support to help when you have a question.

What’s the catch?

When you use off-the-shelf software, you play by the rules of the people that make that software – it’s very unlikely that the software will fit exactly what you need it to do. Maybe you want to capture your customer’s card payments. The CRM system will allow you to capture the customer’s details, but you’ll need to switch to another piece of software to process the payments. Then to actually book the customer into a room for the night, you’ll need to switch to your calendar software and transfer the customer’s details over. All these different systems can lead to over-complication, confusion and even mistakes if your users aren’t careful.

What’s more, you’re playing by their rules – and by they, I mean the software vendor. They may add extra functionality that you don’t want or need, or worse – remove a vital function you depend on. You’re one of (potentially) millions of customers, so making your voice heard when it comes to product decisions can be very difficult.

Custom written software

The other option is to have custom written software developed for your business. The software is designed around your business and processes and tailored to your specific needs.

Let’s use the example above, a hotel booking system. When planning and designing your custom software, you would be able to describe exactly what information you need to capture for each of your customers, exactly what process you want to go through to book that customer into a room. You could even build payments directly into the system, so you handle everything from one place.

What does this mean for your business?

It means less points-of-failure. By doing everything in one screen, you would minimise the opportunities for things to be missed or go wrong. It also means you’re in control. You own the software and you make decisions on how it should function. As your business grows, the software can grow with you, adding in new functionality as you require.

You’re in control. You own the software and you make decisions on how it should function.

Ryan England

Founder and CTO

It also puts you ahead of your competition. By investing in custom written software, your staff can spend less time trying to manage bookings and more time tending to your customers. Whilst your competitors are still switching between screens and trying to find payment information, your customers are checked-in and relaxed.

A word of caution:

This approach is not for everyone. There are some potential downsides. Implementing custom software is often more expensive to setup than off-the-shelf software, as you pay for initially developing the software. Over time, this becomes less of an issue as you own the software, so won’t have to pay for licence fees or other charges. There’s also the time to set up – it’s not just a case of signing up and getting started. The software will need to be designed, built and tested before you can put it into action.

In conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s about where your business is now, and where you want it to be. If you don’t have the budget for a custom software build, then the off-the-shelf solution is a good middle ground, enough to get you started. As you grow, you can switch parts out and make do. When it comes to streamlining and optimising your business or preparing for growth, then bespoke software is a serious contender and deserves your consideration.


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