Off-the-shelf vs bespoke software, which is best?
Off-the-shelf or bespoke software – which is best?
Software development is risky. Two out of three projects fail. One of the most significant factors affecting this risk is whether you use an off-the-shelf (OTS) package, if available, or go for a bespoke solution; custom built to your exact requirements.
Build vs buy
The theory that ‘build vs buy’ has been around for years and it’s still hotly debated today. The argument goes like this: “If you want something done right” (and on time), then do it yourself by building it from scratch. This ensures complete control over the final product, reduces maintenance costs/time in future, mitigates security threat and has the added benefit of showing off your in-house development skills.
Alternatively, if you choose to buy, then it’s just a matter of plugging the software into your existing infrastructure – but you risk having no control over changes to the package or its security implications, future support will be costly and you’re at mercy of its developers when it comes to upgrades. With many organisations facing regular multi-million pound transformations every few years because of evolving regulatory demands alone, this argument is becoming harder to win by the day. OTS packages are sometimes unavailable or unsuitable for business transformation projects. And although OTS provides an efficient route to market for customers with simpler requirements, companies can struggle when they need bespoke functionality that doesn’t exist. Even if there is an OTS package on the market, it may not provide all of the functionalities that an organisation needs. So instead, businesses typically must set out to build what they need themselves – often with extensive use of external consultants and contractors.
The choice between off-the-shelf and custom built software will never be clear cut and it comes down to a company’s individual circumstances and requirements at any point in time. Every project is unique and your business or its situation might make it more beneficial to go for bespoke development rather than settling for an OTS package; but we offer some general guidance here:
You should choose OTS as a starting point as long as it meets 80% of your initial business requirements. This is especially true for smaller companies or those who need software quickly – they can go OTS, make it work for them, save money and still retain the option to switch to a bespoke solution if their needs change.
Going OTS means you’ll have less work to do during installation and support, but you must be ready to accept some limitations that may require more customisation later on. New developments mean there are at least two off-the-shelf products available on average per use case. If you’re aiming for speed and an ‘out of the box’ solution with minimal cost or effort then OTS can’t be beaten – particularly if you don’t want the hassle of building a complete solution yourself. But do research the market thoroughly before deciding on a provider, since each OTS product isn’t perfect and often needs some custom fitting for your business’ needs.
Going bespoke is best if you have unique requirements, don’t have the time to manage multiple projects or need an in-depth understanding of how everything works from start to finish – particularly where regulatory complexity requires changes that aren’t supported by your chosen OTS package. In this case, it might be worth considering flexible development frameworks like .net rather than programming languages per se as these offer the ability to change one section without affecting other parts of your system. This can increase speed and ease during upgrade/maintenance periods where only certain functions are changed rather than the whole system. For example, if you’re building a custom web application then you can change certain parts of it without having to rebuild the entire platform.
OTS is good for quick implementation and can be accommodated with minimal changes to existing infrastructure or processes. But switching from OTS to bespoke will cost considerably more than vice versa at any point – even when there are few modifications required; so make sure your business has clear requirements in advance to ensure you’re not paying for functionality that you don’t need. Off-the-shelf products are largely flexible but it can take considerable effort in some cases to integrate third party software into legacy systems or in heterogeneous multi-vendor environments – resulting in lower availability time because of this and higher problem resolution.
If your business requires functionality that isn’t available as standard you can build it yourself, but this takes considerable time and effort to build the application from scratch. The added benefit is that you then own the code and can customise as needed (for example if a new requirement comes in) without any additional cost – although there might be additional helpdesk charges for installation/support/training if required. But companies often choose bespoke simply because they don’t know what’s available off the shelf and assume they must write it themselves, even though they may not need all of the features or could have extended their development timeframe by choosing an OTS package instead.
Bespoke software provides full control over everything from start to finish. For smaller companies who only need some customising, some functionality might be available out of the box so there’s no need to build everything themselves – but this is rare. Off-the-shelf products can’t usually be adapted for individual requirements so they often require more initial effort than bespoke software instead. But OTS packages are often cheaper and easier to maintain long term if their core functions aren’t changed much or at all over time – which means that you can then concentrate on extending its abilities by writing new code rather than maintaining legacy systems.
Bespoke software has many benefits, including full control of development without any limitations on what can be achieved; as well as greater stability due to having a single point of responsibility rather than multiple code bases. But OTS offers the benefits of simplicity in most cases, with upfront costs lower and future-proofing better since upgrades are easier due to having a single code base which doesn’t need to be rewritten each time. Off-the-shelf products can also be easily implemented if your business has enough resources available – although this comes at the cost of full customisation and potentially increased maintenance time/costs compared to bespoke software .
Bespoke software is best for innovative companies who want complete control over everything from start to finish, without any limitations on what can be achieved. For smaller companies who only need some customising , some functionality might be available out of the box so there’s no need to build everything themselves – but this is rare. Off-the-shelf products can’t usually be adapted for individual requirements so they often require more initial effort than bespoke software instead. But OTS offers the benefits of simplicity in most cases, with upfront costs lower and future-proofing better since upgrades are easier due to having a single code base which doesn’t need to be rewritten each time.
Off the Shelf Software vs Bespoke Software: As an owner or decision maker of customised business applications, you have likely seen claims that one solution is always best for your application needs. If not, here’s how some proponents will pitch their software approach:
Don’t worry about choosing the right software package; off-the-shelf software is the right choice every time. The market for off-the-shelf packages has expanded to meet just about any business need.
The downside to this argument is that it ignores the fact that bringing together different software “building blocks” means you are limited in what you can do with your customised application, because you have limited control over all these building blocks and how they work together. It may be fine when everything goes right, but when something doesn’t go as planned (and isn’t that always the case?), then who’s responsible? And will your IT department be able to resolve things quickly enough?
Not only does bespoke provide complete control of development without any limitations on what can achieved; it also provides. Contact us for more info.