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What Is the Difference Between Custom Written Software and Off-the-Shelf Software?

Custom software or off-the-shelf solution? Find out which one is more beneficial for your business.

Whenever your business needs new software to keep on with its digital transformation journey, you have two main options to go with: custom software or off-the-shelf software. Each of these options has its pros and cons and might fit different businesses under different circumstances; so, which one should you choose? We are going to go through different factors that might influence your choice and see which of two types of software gives you more benefits and which suits your business better.

The main difference between the custom software and off-the-shelf software is in their names – custom software is made for you and only you, it is tailored to your specific needs and helps you achieve your business goals; off-the-shelf software is a ready solution that has been developed for broad use by numerous businesses, so it serves the common interests of the businesses in your particular niche. So, what do you make of it and which solution suits your business better? Well, to make the right choice, first, you must know exactly what you need.

Consider Your Needs and Specs

Your needs are the central focus here, and you need to understand exactly what you need to choose the right type of software that fits your requirements. You should also take your business objectives and future prospects into account to know whether you will need a one-time solution or a solution you’d be able to adapt to your future needs. Choosing the right kind of software is paramount for keeping your business relevant and your customers satisfied.

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Implementation Speed

Out of the box, many solutions are ready for integration and use pretty fast. Of course, it would take some time to integrate the software package you’ve purchased into your ecosystem but it may take just a couple of weeks to do that. Ready solutions are perfect for when you need things done fast, and if you find a software package that corresponds to all of your needs, you’d be able to enjoy all its benefits in a matter of weeks.

Custom software will take months to develop and implement. Take all the planning, recruitment, development, and testing into account, add the complexity and scale of your project on top of that, and you’ll have to wait for many months until your product is ready for launch. Such a project may take anywhere from 2 months and up to a year or more depending on its scale, so you should keep that in mind. 

Pricing

Pricing is an argument factor in the custom vs packaged software discourse. Packaged software usually comes with a monthly subscription, which means you’ll have to make small payments on a monthly basis, which might be a good deal under certain circumstances but may also turn into a huge financial burden. 

Let’s have a look at an example of generic and customized software to see which one would be more beneficial. Let’s assume you need a new CRM system to improve sales and boost your profits; you can either buy a ready CRM solution or invest in developing your own. Developing a CRM system is a complex large-scale project that would cost you some $200,000 or even more, depending on the project’s specs. 

Let’s now take a look at one of the world’s most popular packaged CRM systems – Salesforce: it costs from $25 and up to $300 per user a month, depending on the number of features you need. Say you purchase an Unlimited Edition that costs $300 per user a month. Now, you’ll be paying $3600 a year for a single user, and let’s just say you have 30 sales representatives or users on your team. Well, now you are looking at $108,000 per year. Remember, custom software is a one-time investment and packaged software usually comes on a subscription basis. 

Flexibility

Another difference between custom-written software and off-the-shelf software is that custom software is tailored to your exact needs. With an out of box software, you get a set of standard features that are made for commercial purposes and might not really fit your requirements to their full extent. 

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If you decide to contact a dedicated team of developers to get yourself custom-written software, you will describe your needs to the team and they will develop the exact kind of software you need to achieve all of your needs. More so, such solutions allow for constant improvement and expansion. If after a couple of years, you will need new features added to your software, you’ll be able to get the same team to make those improvements and expand the functionality of your IT ecosystem. 

Comparing off-the-shelf software vs custom software, it should be mentioned that ready solutions hinder your flexibility a great deal. Basically, you get the same product all the other companies get, and aside from not being tailored to your unique business, it also leaves little to no room for improvement. Although the software owners would release some updates from time to time, you will have to wait for those updates along with the rest.

Support

When it comes to product support you get with custom development vs packaged software, they come in at equal. If you hire a team of software developers to create a customized solution, you can also sign them up for continuous support of that solution. That way you can be sure it runs smoothly over a long period of time.

Packaged solutions are not left without support either; most of such packages are managed and supported by the professional teams of developers, and in case any problems occur, you can contact a support team and they will deal with the situation. However, considering you are not the only customer they have, it might take time for them to react in case multiple complaints come along.

Quality

When it comes to comparing the quality of both generic and custom software, both of them can be either good or not-so-good depending on which solution or which vendor you choose. When choosing the right vendor or the right kind of software, you need to pay attention to a whole bunch of factors. First and foremost, you must see what other people say – check the reviews online, see what the previous users or clients say, gather as much information as you can, and try to make an informed decision. 

Of course, when it comes to standard software, you know what you get before you invest any money into it – the package is already there and it has been used by other people before you, so you can figure out whether it is worth investing in. With custom software, you don’t know what you get until the work is done. Of course, if you partner with a reliable vendor who already has a long history of delivering great-quality solutions across industries, you can be sure the end-product is going to be good.

Scalability

One of the main arguments in the off-the-shelf software vs custom software discussion is that custom software is much easier to scale up and down. True, when you buy a software bundle, you pay for a number of features some of which might be completely irrelevant for your business. On the other hand, it might also lack certain features you would want to have been present but you won’t be able to do anything about it because the package is a package. 

With custom software, you can have the exact number of features you need to run your business in a way that is most suitable to you. You can also ask the developers to add new features at any moment.

Which Type of Software is the Best for You?

Comparing generic vs custom software, you must remember that each of them might suit different kinds of businesses. Of course, if you have a number of highly specific requirements and needs, custom software is your best choice. If you are ready to make a large one-time investment and get a solution that is unique to your business – again, custom software is the way to go. If you want things done fast, you might want to buy a package. If you prefer to make smaller payments over a prolonged period of time, you might also want to check the available packages. 

Overall, both types of software have their advantages and their uses, which is why you need to consider your needs first. You should also analyze your market, see what kinds of software your main competitors use, which one is more likely to give the most bang for the buck, and what will help you boost your digital transformation. Evaluating the factors we’ve discussed in this article, you can now make an informed choice.

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