When it comes to investing in business software, are you looking for one-size-fits-all or a tailor-made solution? Do you know the difference between off-the-shelf and custom software? And which is right for you?
Every business has different needs for its day-to-day functioning. From finance packages to email clients, custom ordering portals to data analysis, and the list goes on.
Perhaps you need a tried-and-tested solution, already recognised by your colleagues? Or maybe you need custom software, built by professional developers to meet your unique needs.
There are pros and cons to off-the-shelf products and custom software solutions, but ultimately it’s down to what works best for your specific situation.
What Is off-the-shelf software?
Off-the-shelf software is exactly as it sounds – a standardised product, released in bulk, instantly available to businesses within the mass market, and ready to use out of the box.
Just like products bought ‘off the shelf’ in a department store, these software products have clear up-front pricing, recognisable features and a proven track record within the market – so they can be trusted to deliver the results you expect.
Unlike custom software, off-the-shelf products are available to everyone, providing a variety of functionality for a wide range of businesses. In fact, catering for such a large audience means including more features than most users need, resulting in less agile software with many features largely redundant.
Off-the-shelf software examples
There are many big brands peddling commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, including Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite and Sage Accounting software. Recognised and reliable solutions across the business world, these products are designed to fit easily in almost any work environment.
Unlike most tailor-made software solutions, they include a plethora of applications, plus a library of tutorials and support docs, all designed for a general audience to follow.
With an entire network of users utilising features, querying bugs and recommending changes, the baseline support service – usually on hand 24/7 – are well equipped to advise users and respond to feedback.
Advantages of off-the-shelf software
There are a number of benefits with off-the-shelf software. First, upfront costs are highly competitive, purely thanks to high volume production. And most offer free trials or even a free plan, meaning you fully test products before making a substantial investment.
With a large user base, it’s likely you’ll find numerous customer reviews to help you determine whether a product fits your needs. This type of software has been thoroughly tested to meet typical business demands. Developers have also made ongoing refinements, in response to user feedback. Finally, high volume off-the-shelf software will always be maintained and supported, at least until versions are retired and replaced.
What is custom software?
In contrast to off-the-shelf products, custom software is made with you and your specific business needs in mind. When one-size-fits-all doesn’t meet your unique needs, then custom is the way to go.
Perhaps you’re a specialist business that needs a software solution that sets you aside from the competition? Maybe you need software that makes your daily processes more efficient? Or perhaps you’ve tried commercial products, but they don’t quite hit the mark?
By collaborating with developers throughout the process, customisation options are endless. You can check functionality throughout the build and iron-out issues before software goes live. Changes can be made quickly because you have a direct working relationship with the software developer.
Examples of custom software
Custom software development can address specialised business requirements. From schools to healthcare, shops, councils and communications, custom software is developed for specific users or organisations.
Daily work is completed faster because employees are supported by software that speeds up your specific business processes. Plus, the software can be modified as your business practises change. Cloud computing and the Third Platform bring software and hardware together with smart devices that will complement your custom software.
Custom software comprises many types of development solutions, including:
• Custom software
• Business platforms
• Consumer portals
• Database development
• Complex calculation engines
• Big data and analytics solutions
• API software systems
• Complex systems integration
• Legacy to cloud (AWS)
Benefits of custom software
Custom software is designed and developed to specifically address each of your business requirements. Everything is completely bespoke and fit for purpose, with functionality tailored to your business processes. A custom User Interface (UI) will be designed to reflect your brand guidelines, with language, look and feel to match. The options are unlimited.
Custom software allows you to input your own suggestions and must-have features to get the most out of the final solution. After all, this is your time and money, so you must ensure maximum ROI. As software is created in stages, businesses follow the process of user-acceptance testing, ensuring that software stays on track from start to finish.
By targeting specific aims and needs you’ll be problem solving with the software developers to enhance professional requirements, increasing productivity and performance efficiency within your teams. With COTS, tasks completed on a regular basis may require more steps, barriers and time to overcome, whereas custom software allows you to manage processes more quickly and efficiently.
Designed to be intuitive, everyone is using the same software, specifically adapted to business needs. Unlike off-the-shelf programmes, custom software comes with tailored IT support. And as the official and legal owner of the intellectual property, there are no extra costs to add users. Plus, frequent updates and expensive upgrade costs will not factor because you retain control of any improvements made.
Custom software makes your business flourish not falter. You’re in control of how best it should function, how well it targets employee’s needs and how well it will perform in the future without becoming outdated. It makes you a true competitor in the industry because you have something unique that no other business has.
Customised off-the-shelf software
While there are advantages and disadvantages for off-the-shelf and custom software, there is also a hybrid approach. A combination of off-the-shelf products with built-in custom features or integrations that blend the best of both worlds.
Take existing software and fine-tune it to work for you with personalised add-ons for your specific needs business needs. By filling in gaps and solving problems, you’re not working from a blank page, but instead building on an already reliable and trusted product.
By customising off-the-shelf software, you reduce the time and cost of starting from scratch. You can add new fields, features and functions to improve an already successful piece of software. It adapts to a consistent framework that is proven to work well and can be customised to meet your needs and smooth-out processes. Just make sure that the overall package can still be updated in the future.
For example, if your business uses an operating system and standard office applications on a daily basis you can customise the interface with the company logo and change colours to match your brand. Or you can fine-tune CRM software to present custom fields to track data that works best for you.
This hybrid solution allows employees who are familiar with off-the-shelf software to adapt its features to project requirements. It also provides more opportunities to customise the way data is imported and exported, stored and displayed. However, If you see yourself customising COTS programmes more than necessary, which in itself is time consuming, then custom software may be the best solution.
Looking for a software solution for your business?
At Salpo, we tailor-make software that brings your ideas to life, adapts to your workforce and takes into consideration all the added benefits of investing in a bespoke solution.
We take your needs and desires and transform them into functional, fully-customised software that fits perfectly for you.
Our customer success stories speak for themselves. Working with ambitious enterprises and global brands for more than 12 years, our aim is to solve your problems through whatever means is best for you. Whether that’s developing custom software from scratch, building onto our existing platform or providing off-the-shelf products to deliver fast and cost-effective results that match your needs.