When you find that you spend more time and effort adapting a product than using it the way it was designed, maybe it’s time to look at custom software development.
The backbone of most businesses these days is software. While there are plenty of readymade software solutions available, more and more businesses of all sizes are finding that custom software gives them more freedom and efficiency.
So when do you know that it’s time to toss the box and build your own software? Let’s jump into the main differences between these two types of software.
What’s out-of-the-box software? Think Microsoft Office tools like Word or Excel or project management software like Workfront.
Adobe is a big fish in the software pond, too. But it can also mean software services like WordPress, Magento, and Square. In short, there are plenty of software solutions ready to install and start using.
Sure, there are customization options but you’re not going to get the freedom and development options you would with custom software. For many, that’s OK.
Frankly, there are plenty of set software solutions for almost any application you would use from everyday administrative work, to point of sale (POS) and customer relationship management (CRM) tools, to blog and eCommerce websites.
The one common thread for these types of software is that it’s designed to serve many of the needs of a large group of people. While you might have the ability to add preferences, it’s never really custom.
Pros and Cons
There are reasons that readymade software is so popular. First and foremost, it’s super affordable. Since developers only need to make one product for many users, the return on investment vastly outweighs the cost of development.
It’s also fast. Really fast. Not only does most software install with just a few clicks, but training also doesn’t take very long either. Even the most tech-challenged individuals know their way around basic Microsoft Office tools.
In addition, most updates for these types of software are easy to install and usually free. Since it’s used by more than one company, testing is usually broad, generally reliable, and paid for by someone else.
Those are pretty compelling benefits for buying off the shelf. It’s no surprise that so many companies choose such solutions for their software needs. However, there are limitations to these popular software options. Such limitations can create expensive and frustrating problems.
Designed for the General Audience
The Scrooges of Christmas will often say “no matter how you cut or ice it, it’s still a gingerbread cookie”.
The most obvious downside is that the software isn’t designed for you. It’s designed for the shared general needs of many people. So there will be processes you’ll never use, functions you’ll use frequently, and applications you’ll want but don’t have.
Limited Customization Options
The second downside is while most of these solutions do some customization options, it can be limited and sometimes difficult to do. Instead of the freedom that customization offers, you’re more likely to be given a number of various preferences to choose from.
Those looking to customize certain software often become frustrated by their lack of options.
Customizations Can be Difficult to Maintain
Another downside to customizing this type of software is that updates will be designed for the un-customized platform. That can lead to frustrating and time-consuming issues. It can also lead to you deciding that maybe custom software is the way to go.
Custom Software Benefits
Enough about other types of software, let’s talk about what custom software can do for you.
It’s easy to see the benefits of custom software. It’s the glass slipper of software and you’re Cinderella without the pumpkin carriage. Instead of being designed to meet some of the needs of lots of users, custom software development is just for you.
It can make you more efficient, more focused, and create a better customer experience for your users, both customers and employees alike. You can change it as your business needs change and it can grow with you.
The Two Different Types of Custom Software
Standalone software is designed to serve a specific business need. Project management systems are a great example.
While there are almost countless project management software solutions available, they often require tremendous amounts of customization to suit the needs of a business. Building custom project management software is usually a better solution.
This would allow existing products (either custom or out of the box) you already use to communicate with one another and work as a team. For example, if you use a chatbot, a CRM platform, and a POS (point of sale) system and you need certain information to be shared between them, a custom software solution is the perfect option for you.
How Can Custom Software Development Help You?
So you might be thinking custom software development can help my business. You’re probably dreaming of all the ways it can help productivity and improve customer experience. But first, let’s just into a few of the need-to-know things about custom software.
There’s a project management theory that does a great job breaking down what you need to consider when taking on a project as large as developing custom software.
To better illustrate this, let’s use the Project Management Triangle to discuss the most important factors of a custom software project.
For the same reason that out-of-the-box software is inexpensive, custom software can be expensive, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. A birthday cake with your name and favorite flavoring will always be more expensive than a generic store-bought one. Understanding where the development costs come from can help you mitigate and plan for the cost of development and maintenance.
The more you plan the better. Here’s what you should do when planning:
- Be detailed in the schematic you need
- Think about who it needs to help, how it needs to work, and what problem it’s fixing
- Organize and delegate projects to members early on
The more information you can gather, organize and utilize at the beginning of the process, the less likely you’ll be to change your scope of work during development.
Changing scope (or scope creep) is one of the fastest ways to blow any development budget. While changes during the development process are common, we always like to think the fewer changes, the cheaper!
This everyday software is often plug-and-play. Think about how quickly you can install QuickBooks or Microsoft Office. It’s already designed so you just have to go in, set your preferences, and you’re ready to get started.
Training can be fast, too. If the software is used widely in your industry already, chances are employees but old and new are familiar with the product. Even if they haven’t, there are probably plenty of training programs or online courses.
A custom software solution has to be created from the ground up. Development, testing, rollout, and training all require time. But like cost, there are ways to shorten timelines.
A skilled project manager can add significant value and save time by ensuring the large and complex process of custom software development is planned systematically and monitored for any disruption.
Have a detailed timeline with reasonable and recognizable milestones. Make responsibilities and ownership of each element clear and known to the team. And focus on solid communication between team members.
If (and when) you encounter a delay or a change to the timeline, make sure it’s clear where the change came from and what the new timeline (and cost) will be. Set new milestones if necessary.
Who’s building your custom software solution?
While you might have an in-house IT team already, developing custom software might be more than they’re able to take on. Maybe they don’t have the time to take on such a big project. Most in-house IT teams have full plates already. They might have the time, but do they have the necessary skills?
Carrying out a custom software project requires extensive knowledge and a specific skill set. Of the three major considerations, appropriate resources have the biggest impact to custom software. If you don’t have the right people building your software, it can set you back on two of life’s most valuable things: time and money.
When Do you Outsource?
Depending on your needs, you may find that the best solution is hiring qualified professionals to help with your custom software development. Remember, while you may encounter additional costs up-front from hiring a company to do the work, there might be big payoffs in time to develop and overall quality.
Using Custom Software Development
There’s a term in the project management world called “Technical Debt.” John Leo Weber wrote a great article on the topic. He defines Technical Debt as-
“The costs of having to go back and resolve problems that arise because of an earlier decision to take the easy route, instead of the best one. In a sense, that choice for an easy solution is incurring a debt to the project that will have to be paid later.”
It’s like buying shoes that don’t quite fit but are cheaper than the right size. They’ll work but you’ll have blisters for sure. Can you afford the right shoes now or blisters later?
There’s a big difference between making software work and having software that makes your work better. For many, custom software makes their business better. The investments in time, money, and resources can pay off big time when you have the right solution for you and your customers.
Here at Atiba, we specialize in our custom software development services. Our experts have plenty of experience in working with businesses of all sizes to find something that fits your needs and helps you accomplish your business goals. Reach out to us today in order to get your project quote.