Bespoke versus Off the Shelf software – Can you have the best of both worlds?
When buying software for your business, often the first decision to contemplate is whether to build a custom solution or to purchase an off the shelf package which will do most of what you need, even if it doesn’t fit your business process exactly.
What are some of the advantages of bespoke software?
In an ideal world it will be tailor made to the exact needs of your individual organisation or department and will fully meet the business objectives. Scalability is often a plus factor with custom solutions, as you can either upsize or downsize the system depending on the growth of the business, which means that evolution of both the business and the system can happen in synergy but without additional licensing costs. This is due to the fact that companies that commission bespoke solutions should be taking into consideration the long term IT plans rather than sourcing a quick fix solution, ensuring that they can move forward with ease rather than being limited by their internal systems.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) might be another reason for choosing to develop a bespoke software system as many suppliers hand over the rights of their software on completion of the project. This means that the buyer has the freedom to do what they like once the system is functional and need not be tied in to a lengthy contract.
Bespoke solutions can have some potential drawbacks
Bespoke solutions are often considerably higher in cost than off the shelf software, as the systems have to be built from scratch. The initial outlay in resources is much greater as to do it successfully, teams of experts such as business analysts, project managers, developers and testers are all required to bring the software to life.
However even though there is a higher investment so early on in the project the ongoing cost and support should be lower over time. As the software should replicate the business needs more closely it should also quickly deliver a return on investment.
A major limitation could come as a result of the requirements originally set out. If they haven’t been properly specified then the software is less likely to fulfil your actual needs, as developers work closely to specifications.
However the likelihood of this happening is diminished if the development company has the expertise and resource to provide experienced analysts to work with you to ensure the specification is clear and meets all the requirements of the business process. Working in this way can also produce further processes that may have been overlooked in house and can ultimately improve the final system.
Off the Shelf/Packaged Systems
As the name suggests off the shelf software products/packages are already built based on generic needs of an industry. You can purchase a packaged solution based on an acceptable match between your requirements and the common functionality provided by the software package.
Many off the shelf systems started as a bespoke solution of one kind or another, but as demand grows for similar solutions across a market, the best and most common requirements for the varying solutions are put together for a one-size fits all model and then marketed.
Is there a cost benefit to buying off the shelf?
These systems are typically easy to install as any teething problems (bugs) that might be associated with a bespoke solution will have been dealt with way back in the original development.
Therefore unlike bespoke systems they require less initial outlay in terms of time commitment from your team so on the whole they work out cheaper. Besides price and easy installation they are also designed for ease of use, so new users find it easy to adapt and change their ways of working without the need for intensive training.
What are some of the draw backs with most packaged software products?
The standardisation of business process can mean that users find themselves being forced to work in ways the software dictates. This can lead to limitations, simplification and restrictions on a business and could mean that the software could be restricting business potential.
Another factor that can limit the capabilities of a product is compatibility with other in house software which could lead to operational issues. Legacy software may pose difficulties with integration and compatibility so the transfer of data and communication between the new and existing systems can limit the efficiency gains often expected of new software. Purchasing a software package with limited integration could restrict the ability to communicate or share data with other organisations, partners and customers.
However well written packages are not so rigid that they can’t be adapted according to intrinsic business processes and some of the more expensive solutions do allow you to customise and develop certain elements to achieve the desired procedures.
With off the shelf costs are shared and enhancements are regular
Unlike a bespoke system the IPR ownership and copyright are held by the supplier, which again helps to reduce costs because they share the development costs amongst all their customers, and also means that there is little chance of the system becoming obsolete as they will pool customers’ ideas for new enhancements.
The combination of low price and standardised process may reduce your competitive advantage as a direct result of purchasing the software alone as you are commissioning a mass marketed product. If your business processes are completely individual to your company then the bespoke option will most likely give you the best fit solution.
Is there third software option – Yes!
At ediTRACK we began as a bespoke software development company delivering supply chain tracking and management solutions to retail and insurance industries. Over the recent years we have further developed our business and software model in order to offer a compromise between off the shelf and bespoke solutions. This has largely been down to our specialist development abilities and our experience working alongside large insurance and retail customers.
Our web-based supply chain management product ‘Lighthouse’ has been developed so that it can be purchased and used by our customers straight off the shelf. However, Lighthouse has been developed to be modular and easily configurable due to its components which can be modified to fit the needs exactly of a customer. Working in this way will incur a higher upfront cost for the customer compared to the pure off the shelf version, but it will still be considerably less than a custom developed solution.
We can overcome the challenge of matching the exact needs of a business through the integration of the various components and our specialist skills in rapid bespoke software development.
Our software can integrate with most legacy systems and all file types. The nature of our business is built around the ability to integrate businesses processes and provide them with optimum visibility across multiple systems, business departments and/or partners.
This approach is certainly gaining in popularity and we are seeing more demand for our Lighthouse supply chain management product suite as a result.
We’d love to hear from you.