Off-the-shelf vs custom-made: Do you buy or build your software?

Off-the-shelf vs custom-made: Do you buy or build your software?

So you can’t decide if you’ll go off-the-shelf or custom-made?

Regardless of your budget or the amount of past implementation scars you can proudly flash, it is never an easy decision for an IT leader. Onboarding a new system is always going to impact processes and people across your company.

Both options have pros and cons. As you start defining the roadmap ahead, you need to ask yourself a couple questions if you want to avoid bumps down the road. Ultimately, the software decision you make for your business will either fill the need or come back to haunt you as a non-functional, pricey nightmare.

1.) What problem are you trying to solve? How do you determine if pursuing it will be of value?

Based on your assigned goals (or more frequently: the context and objectives you inherited in your new role) you will naturally gear towards what your Executive Board says is most urgent. You’ll never know if you are purchasing the right tool unless you first stop and think about the dimensions of the problem you are trying to solve. Understanding the company goals and having all the stakeholders on the same page will ensure that the right challenges are being addressed and accounted for. From there you can start to understand what success looks like and determine the potential ROI you hope to achieve.

2.) Which departments will be impacted by a new solution’s implementation?

Ideally, stakeholders for a proposed solution will include representation from all affected departments to make sure that their respective needs are advocated for. Some basic questions to cover:

  • What software are they currently using in their department?
  • How will a new solution impact each department’s current workflow?
  • Can we anticipate how steep the learning curve will be with a new tool?
  • How do you expect adoption of a new solution to affect the department’s  performance?

Understanding early on the “who, why, and how” for individuals impacted by this change will be essential to a smooth software transition.

3.) How do you ensure user adoption?

Even if you can rely on your team leaders to understand the main benefits users within their departments will receive, you can’t avoid the fact that they’ll be biased. Having a solid user testing strategy in place is critical to ensure a product will do what you expected it to do and meet the ultimate business goals. If you don’t have a good understanding of your users needs, then this is certainly one aspect to cover before you move any further.

The best products aren’t built for users, they’re built by users.

4.) How much money are you working with?

The IT annual budget is a natural limit regarding what executives can spend. Generally, any request to go beyond those limits needs to be backed up by solid reasoning as it will face scrutiny from your CFO or the rest of the executive board.
Even if you have a perfect understanding of what you need to build, when there’s no money for it your hands will be tied.

After assessing the nuances of your particular context and situation, let’s see if an off-the-shelf or custom-made solution is what you’re looking for.

Off-the-shelf vs custom-made: Do you buy or build your software?

Why off-the-shelf?

The Pros of off-the-shelf

  • They can be up and running quickly. Off the shelf solutions are immediately ready to use after payment and/or installation.
  • They are a cheaper option and can be ideal when cost is a constraint.
  • Additionally, when you are running short of technical team, implementation of an already existing product can be faster and might not require heavy IT involvement.

The Cons of off-the-shelf

  • Depending on the amount of options in the market, the procurement process to find a suitable product is intricate and burdensome on the internal team.
  • You’ll have to evaluate for user experience/usability which can take considerable effort (and time) for you and your team. Off the shelf software is designed for a variety of users types. There may be too many unneeded features or, what’s worse, a lack of those that will really make a difference for your team and company. Additionally, new features that you request may get ignored if they don’t benefit the SaaS company’s larger customer base.
  • There is potential for a lack of compatibility between the new solution and existing legacy platforms. Off-the-shelf software might require additional supporting infrastructure/software to function in the way that you need it to in your environment.

This is one of the main regrets we see each day in our conversations. As one COO recently put it on an initial call :

I don’t have the bandwidth right now for a lot of roll outs. I’m in the middle of 5 software implementations, having nothing but problems with them. I wish we were having this conversation 5-6 months ago.

Off-the-shelf vs custom-made: Do you buy or build your software?

Why custom-made?

Pros of custom software

  • Your business has unique requirements that are just not met by existing solutions
  • To reduce redundant features and increase performance
  • UX/UI is based on your user’s processes and needs, not a more general user base
  • You have control over it. Your company will be responsible for security and compliance to make sure the software is performing optimally
  • If you require constant changes as your business scales, then continuous customization can be done

Cons of custom software

  • When compared to commercial software, custom development will end up being expensive on the frontend and deployment efforts can be challenging when compared to what’s offered today on largely commercialized software
  • The effort needed for creating a software that systematically fits the needs of your organization is not an easy task if you’re not familiar in working this way
  • The time to create and deploy custom software can be challenging – it will be dependent on the requirements and complexity of the solution. During this time, communication between the development team and the organization needs to be clear so expectations are met

Conclusion

Finding the right balance between business and technical requirements is never an easy task. As a rule of thumb, make sure to keep top of mind the pre-defined goals you laid out before your search for an off-the-shelf or custom-made tool began. Ultimately, your choice in a solution will be evaluated based on that criteria.

Also keep in mind that you can never make everyone happy. No matter which direction you go, there’ll be teams that are happily and rapidly onboarded and others that will complain that “the older system was better.”

Paying a cheaper price for a canned solution may bring results faster but might not always end up as intended on the long run. Questions around how this new solution “talks” with other tools in your environment and knowing if it can scale with the rapid changes in your industry are risks that need to be mitigated. If you need something to use immediately at a lower upfront cost, then you probably should go with prebuilt software.

If after consideration you find that the cost and time required to adapt an existing system to your unique requirements is a “no go”, then you should consider a custom made solution. Taking the time to build a solution that is owned by your company can actually save money in the long run as your needs and team grow. If you worked with a SaaS company with a off-the-shelf solution, this growth would require you to buy more tools and add more seats for your new members.

Perhaps you’re at a crossroad: don’t worry, there are also hybrid approaches!  These combine off-the-shelf solutions and custom apps. Though we are a custom software engineering and design firm, Codelitt takes this approach more often than not. Why reinvent the wheel if it’s not needed? Codelitt’s approach is then to make sure that all systems communicate well with each other and build apps to bridge the gaps not met with off-the-shelf solutions. Essentially, we marry the best of both worlds!

If you’re still struggling to decide, consider this question: how much money is it costing you on an hourly, daily, or monthly basis to not make a decision on finding a solution to your problem?

Frustrated with coming up with all the gaps that you need new software to fill? Finding the missing pieces in the “requirements definition puzzle” and mitigating uncertainty about how your users will respond to your final product can be approached in one of our Build Workshops. Set up a meeting with us! We can be your extra, unbiased pair of eyes to make sure you’re looking at the problem correctly.

Our build workshops services are meant to:

1. Understand your problem

2. Understand your users

3. Ideate on a solution

4. Build the scope

Essentially, we give you the roadmap for how Codelitt would build it if you were to ask us to.

If this would be useful to you in your company, get in touch with us and tell us what you need help with!

Source: Codelitt

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