Off-the-shelf vs. bespoke software development
We write a lot about web development, but today we focus on our other main business area: software development.
Whenever a business is looking for a software package, there are two main routes they can go down:
- Buy an off-the-shelf package, or
- Have it custom-written.
Here we look at the pros and cons of each.
Option 1: Off-the-shelf software
Off-the-shelf software is software that is ready-made, available to lots of people, and you usually pay a license fee to use it. For example, Microsoft Office.
The advantages are:
- It is cheaper, due to economies of scale (development costs are spread across a large number of users).
- It is faster to get set up, as the development work has already been done.
- If it is a commonly used package, users and I.T. staff may already be familiar with it, saving on learning time and training costs.
- Books and online help are usually available to help you learn or resolve problems.
- It often has more functionality than bespoke software, because the developers try to satisfy more use-cases.
- If you use open source software, you are not tied into using a specific developer / IT company.
The disadvantages are:
- You may have to compromise on your requirements – it is unlikely you will find ready-made software that does everything you would like it to.
- The software may be complex and bloated for your needs, due to the number of different requirements it is trying to support.
- As a single user amongst many, you may struggle to be heard by the developers, e.g. to suggest improvements or get problems resolved.
- As your requirements change, the software may not be able to change to keep up – this can lead to a costly switch to a new package.
Option 2: Bespoke (custom-made) software
Bespoke software is written specifically for you, to meet your specific business requirements.
Advantages of this are:
- The software more closely meets your requirements, as it is developed especially for you.
- It can be more easily integrated with existing software/other systems you have, reducing data duplication.
- It can evolve over time to match your changing requirements.
- You only pay for the features you need.
- If you own the software, you won’t have to pay a monthly license or similar ongoing cost.
- It may give you a competitive advantage, as your competitors won’t have the same software.
The disadvantages are:
- There is a higher initial cost, as you have to pay the development cost.
- It takes longer to get the system set up, as you have to wait for it to be developed.
Option 3: Hybrid solution
A third possibility is to find some off-the-shelf software that fits 80% of your requirements, then have it customised to fit the other 20% – either by the original developers, or by a third party.
This gives you the best of both worlds – cheaper and faster setup than fully bespoke software, but a closer match to your requirements than plain off-the-shelf software. However, it is only possible if there is off-the-shelf software available that is either open source, or otherwise flexible enough to be extended.
How we can help
At Alberon we are both software developers, customising systems and writing bespoke software, and software consultants, helping clients determine which off-the-shelf software is best for them – so we can help you find the best, most cost-effective solution for your business.
Call us on 01865 794009, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we could help you.