Off-the-shelf vs. bespoke software development

When a business is looking for a software package, there are two main options available – buy an off-the-shelf software package, or have a bespoke solution developed. 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 and available to lots of people. You usually pay a license fee to use it, e.g. Microsoft Office.

The advantages are:

  • Cheaper. The development costs are spread across a large number of users, so you pay much less than it would cost to build the same software from scratch.
  • Available immediately. The development work has already been done, so all you need to do is set up the software and start using it.
  • Lower training costs. 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. Or, there may be pre-existing training materials and courses that you can leverage.

  • Community support. If the software is popular, there may be books, articles, forums and online communities offering support and advice to help you learn or resolve any issues.
  • More functionality. Off-the-shelf software often has more functionality, because the developers try to meet the requirements of as many users as possible. (There may even be functionality you didn’t realise you need!)
  • Upgrades. The vendor will continue to develop the software, so you will likely get upgrades for free or at a reduced cost, whereas in bespoke software you don’t get anything new unless you pay for it to be built.

The disadvantages are:

  • Compromise. You may have to compromise on your requirements – it is unlikely you will find ready-made software that does everything you need it to, exactly how you want it to.
  • May be overly complicated. The software may include functionality that you don’t need, as it is trying to meet the different requirements of a number of users. This can make it more difficult to learn and use.
  • You are not in control. The vendor’s plans for the future may not always fit with your own. As a single customer amongst many, you may not be able to get the features you want implemented.

Option 2: Bespoke (custom-made) software

Bespoke software is written especially for you, to meet your specific business requirements.

The advantages are:

  • Tailored to you. The software is developed and built to meet your specific requirements, ensuring that you get software that works exactly how you need it to and delivers the results you want.
  • More flexible. A bespoke system can evolve over time to match your changing requirements.
  • No per-user fees. If you own the software, you won’t have to extra per-user fees as your business grows.
  • Not tied in. You own the intellectual property, so you are not tied to a specific vendor that could potentially disappear at any time.

  • Competitive advantage. As your competitors won’t have the same software, it could give you a competitive edge. An effective software package can make a company work more efficiently, improve their performance and have a positive impact on customer satisfaction levels.

The disadvantages are:

  • Higher initial costs. It will cost more at the beginning, as you have to pay the development costs.
  • Takes longer. Depending on the size and complexity of the software, it may take months or even years to develop.

Option 3: The hybrid solution

A third possibility is to find an off-the-shelf package that fits 80% of your requirements, then have it customised to fit the other 20%. This may be by the original developers, if they are willing to do so, or by a third party, as long as it is customisable or open source.

This solution 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.

We can help

At Alberon we are specialist software developers – we can write bespoke software for you, or customise your existing systems to work better. We also offer consultancy services, using our expertise to help clients choose the right off-the-shelf software for them.

Call us on 01865 794009, or email hello@alberon.co.uk to discuss how we could help you.

About Alberon

We have been designing and building bespoke software solutions and websites for organisations in Oxford for over 12 years, helping them to work more effectively and realise their full potential.

Our friendly, highly experienced team of web designers and software developers are dedicated to helping our clients achieve the outcomes they want. From web design and development, to complex software solutions, we apply our creative and technical know-how to deliver the perfect solution.


1 comment

  1. 28th February 2017 Dawda Sanneh said:

    Well stated and structured explanation. I’m presently doing a project in system development for my first year final assessment.
    I found you Pros and Cons very helpful. Keep the good work going!


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