Off-the-Shelf Software VS. Custom Software Development: What to Choose?

  • April 15, 2020
  • 10 min
off the shelf vs custom software

Has your business been trying to decide whether to use off-the-shelf or custom software? It’s an important decision and the one which can have a considerable impact on the way your business performs.

But before you’re ready to pick between off-the-shelf and custom software, you first need to understand the differences between the two. Luckily for you, that’s where this article comes in!

What is custom software development?

Custom software development is all about creating bespoke software that’s designed for you and only you. When your business pays for custom software, you’re mostly paying for a developer to build software that’s just for your company. This can even provide a competitive advantage.

Most custom software projects follow one of two routes. Some developers code entire platforms from scratch, while others will use a basic framework and build up from there. This latter approach can save some time and resources, but it can also lead to its inherent constraints.

Our company got listed in Top Custom Software Development Companies Of 2020!

What is off the shelf software?

The defining feature of off-the-shelf software is that it’s typically pre-built, and your company pays for a license to use it. Many off-the-shelf companies service customers on mass, charging much lower fees but doing little to tailor the platform to each company.

This means that if your business decides to use off-the-shelf software, you’ll typically pay a lot less for the privilege. Still, you’ll also find yourself using a less powerful platform that might not have all of the functionality that you’re looking for.

Choosing between the two can be difficult because both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at a little overview.

Custom software: pros and cons

Pros

  • Custom software is developed with your business in mind from the outset. As a result, your software will tick all of your boxes and do everything you need it to.
  • Most custom software providers will also make themselves available either on a retainer or for ad-hoc support when you need it.
  • It’s usually easier to develop new functionality for custom software than it is for off-the-shelf software, which is often sealed off to modifications and somewhat limited in what it allows you to do.
  • All of the data in your custom software build will be your proprietary data, and you’ll have total control over how it’s used. This can be particularly useful for companies in highly regulated industries such as finance or healthcare.
  • It’s mostly the best option out there if you want to follow best practices and to create a piece of software that’s designed specifically to help your business to reach its business goals.

Cons

  • The most obvious downside of picking custom software is that it’s usually much more expensive, which can be a problem if you’re working on a budget.
  • Custom software also takes longer to get up and running because it needs to be created before you can start using it. Off-the-shelf software is usually ready for you to pick it up and start moving straight away.
  • Custom software doesn’t always have the best documentation, and indeed you may even have to pay extra if you want any documentation at all. Creating documentation takes time, and time is money.
  • Sometimes custom software builds can sacrifice visual appeal and ease of use in exchange for pure functionality. Off-the-shelf software typically has a lot more thought behind the user journey.
  • Custom software developers will occasionally require you to agree to an ongoing retainer with guaranteed work in the future. With that said, this can also be useful because it means you have pledged support.

Off-the-shelf software: pros and cons

Pros

  • Easily the most significant benefit of off-the-shelf software is that it typically costs much less money than custom software, which is time-consuming and resource-intensive to develop.
  • Off-the-shelf software is typically used by higher numbers of people, which means that there’s usually a community around it. This means that you can share tips and tricks with other users.
  • As a rule, off-the-shelf software tends to have the best documentation because it only has to be created once, and then it can be supplied to all users.
  • Because many people are already using the software, you won’t have to worry about bugs and other issues as they should have already been ironed out.
  • You can read reviews of any given off-the-shelf software from existing users before your business commits signing up for a plan.

Cons

  • Off-the-shelf software has been designed to cater to as many people as possible, which means that it often can’t handle specific tasks that you might have had in mind.
  • As well as not necessarily having the features that you need building into it by default, off-the-shelf software is typically quite closed as well. This means that you might not be able to add any features that are missing.
  • There’s a risk that you’ll get locked into whichever platform you use and not be able to export the data for use in your proprietary system if you develop one at a later date.
  • The considerable number of providers on the market can make it difficult to choose just one to go with.
  • Ultimately, it’s a compromise, and you’ll always know that you made that compromise. Using off-the-shelf software is better than using no software at all, but it isn’t as good as using custom software that’s been designed with your business in mind from the bottom up.

Conclusion

Now that you know the main difference between custom and off-the-shelf software, you’re ready to figure out which approach is best for you. Remember to weigh up the pros and cons of each method and to figure out what makes the most sense for you and your business.

Any software company worth working with will be more than happy to get to know how your business works and to make suggestions of what kind of help you might need. We’re speaking from experience as a Magento development company here, and so be sure to contact us if you need help with your software or web development project.

Other than that, you’re ready to go out there and to make your new custom software project a reality, so perhaps it’s time for you to start working on your brief and to shortlist providers who might be a good fit for you. Good luck!

 

Author

Roman Korzh
Chief Partnership Officer

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