Bespoke vs off-the-shelf software 22 March 2018

As people become more computer-literate, the demand for new software is constantly growing. It’s no wonder, then, that businesses are also looking for ways to benefit from the rise of information technologies and help their businesses prosper.

Luckily, such software is abundant, but when looking for something that will give the most benefits to your company, the first choice you’ll have to make is whether to choose off-the-shelf or bespoke software.

Off-the-shelf software

As the name suggests, is software that is ready to use from the very beginning – someone’s already had the idea and implemented it, so it’s sitting on the shelf, waiting for you to buy it. A good example is Microsoft Office – a piece of software that is useful to many businesses that can be acquired simply by buying it.

⊕ Pros

This type of software has some prominent advantage. The very fact that it has already been developed with a larger number of companies in mind alone carries a good deal of pros. First of all, software like this will always be cheaper than bespoke software, since your company doesn’t have to cover the development cost of the product alone.

It also goes without saying that being available immediately is a big plus. Since all the development is finished, you only need to buy and install the software. You will also probably need to devote fewer resources to training your staff, as most IT staff will be familiar with software packages that are in frequent use.

And then there are more advantages stemming from the fact that more people are using this software. If anything ever goes wrong or you’re simply looking for more effective ways to utilise it, you can always fall back on the community through various books, articles, and forums. You can also  count on the software being more functional as developers usually design it to be compatible with as many devices as possible. And then, of course, are the free (or reduced-cost) upgrades that usually happen at regular intervals.

⊖ Cons

Of course, the approach does carry some disadvantages. What off-the-shelf software offers in terms of accessibility, it takes away by making you compromise on your requirements. No off-the-shelf product will ever offer you exactly all the features you’re looking for, unless you’re running a smaller business, in which case you should be able to find just what you need in a ready package. It may, however, come with a bunch of features that you’ll never use and which may, in a worst-case scenario, make the overall experience more convoluted and complex. The updates that are bound to happen in the future are, in the same vein, never guaranteed to address specific issues you may have, since they are made with a larger public in mind.

So let’s say the good doesn’t outweigh the bad for you when it comes to off-the-shelf software. Is it then a simple choice to turn to bespoke software?

Bespoke software

Also known as custom-made software, is developed for you, specifically. You hire a developer to build you a piece of software that will meet all of your business requirements.

⊕ Pros

Needless to say, this approach has a number of solid advantages, the most obvious one being that it is built completely from scratch to meet every requirement you may have. You will get what you pay for and you can be sure that your software will have all the features you want it to have, with no extra features to muddle the experience.

Because the software is designed with you in mind from the very beginning, you can be certain that updates made in the future will be based on your personal feedback, so that the software you got can continue evolving in a direction you want it to. This flexibility will, in turn, help your business constantly grow.

You’ll also avoid any per-user fees. Usually when you order bespoke software, you get to keep using it no matter how large your business becomes. You are also considered the owner of the intellectual property, so you don’t have to worry about being tied to a specific provider.

Most importantly, bespoke software gives you a competitive edge, since none of your competitors will have the same product. As a well-written piece of software can make the company’s work more efficient, this can be huge draw for potential clients.

⊖ Cons

Bespoke software still comes with a number of disadvantages, however. The initial costs is undoubtedly much higher than for off-the-shelf software. While you may see a return on investment in the future, the fact remains you’ll need to pay much more from the start than you would by simply buying a readily available package. Connected to this is another con – the wait. Depending on how big and complex your software is, developing it can take a while. Compared to the relative simplicity of the off-the-shelf approach, bespoke software demands a bit more patience.

Hybrid solution

There is also a third option that potentially lets you get the best of both worlds. Referred to simply as a hybrid solution, the way you go about it is this: find an off-the-shelf package that meets a majority of your requirements. It doesn’t matter what it is, just find one that’s almost perfect for you. Once you have it, contact the original developers or a third-party developer to customise the software to your liking (this can be done as long as the software is customisable or open source).

This way, you’ll save more money and time than if you were ordering software to be made from scratch while still gaining all the features to meet the specific requirements of your business.

In the end, however, it’s up to you. There are a number of clear advantages to each of the above approaches. As with everything in business, it all comes down to resource management. Decide on what works best for you based on the assessment we made for you, and you should come up with a solid conclusion that will work the best for you.


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22.04.2018 Anna Baron