How do I know if I need to invest in Custom Software?

When running a business in the modern world, sooner or later you are likely to face the situation where you need software to process some of your business tasks easier and faster than if they were done manually.

Let’s take one of the most common examples, the selection of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform. The question here is: Do I need to have custom software developed, or will a packaged solution work for me and my business?

Standard software

To start with, it is likely that you will lean towards buying some off-the-shelf software. This could be SugarCRM or Vtiger, let’s say. …. (Not wishing to promote any of these products, these will tend to be the most popular candidates).

…And, no doubt – these products will have proven themselves to be good enough for most business situations and, of course, standard software like this may well save you a lot of precious money!

By installing the ready-to-go software you’ll get the basic customer management tools right away. In addition, you may also be able to get some plugins, providing, for example, integration with the Asterisk VoIP server, and these will be only a couple of clicks away.

Soon you will find that with a little extra effort you can customize the data you want to store in your customer database too, so it is all quite easy and “good to go”.

So, why should I consider investing in custom software?

Custom software, in essence, can give benefits to your business if the following conditions apply:

a) You want to be better than your competitors in the market, (assuming they are using an off-the-shelf solution);

b) You want to grow and develop your business large enough to cover the costs of the custom-made system, which, as we know, can do things that standard software cannot do, and therefore can give you a good return on your investment.

Whilst the development of custom software is more expensive than buying a ready-to-go solution, the investment may well be worth it. Remember, however, that development of any custom software solution will require significant resources of energy, time and patience.

Here are some key aspects of custom-made software that you should consider:

  • Off-the shelf software is not intended to handle each and every need its buyer might have. This is because this type of software is built based on mainstream needs across a wide variety of different types of business. If your business has some specific needs or it works in a narrow vertical market, then custom software is probably your best choice;
  • Ready-to-go solutions are rigid. Most of the software you can buy out there, will not allow you to modify its functionality by any significant amount. There will be plenty of the features you need but there will also be lots of functionality that is unnecessary for your particular business situation.
  • Standard software may not be compatible with other IT solutions. As we know, your business will, most likely, be using some other software for accomplishing certain tasks, or you may have some integration with systems belonging to your partners. It is important to understand that standard software might never (depending on the license terms of the software, its technical capabilities and architecture) be able to integrate with these other systems, whereas the custom-made software can always be adapted for doing any job (literally);
  • Standard software may not suit the ergonomics of your business situation and workflows. “One size fits all” is OK up to a point, you can wear a suit a couple of sizes too small and it might be OK, but you will always be thinking about something more comfortable. Custom-made software is called custom because it can adapt to the precise workflows and processes you need.

Why should you consider buying a standard solution?

Let’s consider the other side of the argument for a second.

Remember that under some circumstances it still might be more reasonable to stick with off-the-shelf solutions, especially for smaller businesses.

If you think this will be the case, then you need to take these factors into account:

  • Limited budget. The costs of development of your own software can be a good enough reason alone to avoid this option. Mainstream solutions are a lot cheaper, therefore, it might make a lot more financial sense for companies with smaller budgets.
  • Lack of technical skills. If you are considering building the software yourself (that is, inside your own company), make sure that your team have enough of the necessary brainpower and skills to, firstly   understanding your business case correctly, and, secondly, that they have enough knowledge in software technology to build the product. Making wrong decisions in either of these areas can lead to catastrophic results which could cost you a fortune and leave you without a working solution.
  • Good, standard software is already available on the market. For common businesses, like warehouses, there are generally standard software solutions already available. You can just buy them, and they will, most likely, serve your needs very well.

How can custom developed software help your business?

Nowadays, no business can stay the same for ever. To survive, your business needs to adapt itself to changing market conditions. So of course, it makes sense if you also adapt your software to meet these new challenges. Let’s look at some examples below:

Increased productivity

The software that has been developed to serve your needs does this very well. It does things in exactly the way you need, so it serves you, rather than the other way around. This is where you gain speed and efficiency.

Competitive advantage

When you are using the same software as your competitor, you cannot really outperform him by using your software. You will be using some other tools to give you competitive advantage (marketing, for example) but the software itself will do the same as it does for the competitor. By investing in your own custom software, it is likely that you will eventually outperform them, and that advantage will increase over time as you invest more into your custom system.

Faster reaction time

To develop good custom software, you first need to hire a great team that will accomplish the task. Once that team has settled down, they will be able to build a wide variety of systems, sub-systems, tools. Anything that your business requires as it grows, evolves and adapts to changing market conditions. If your primary goal is to dominate the market, then the tools you have, should help you in doing this, without putting obstacles in your way.

Always remember – Once you have a custom software solution, it will become your “business family member”, one that will live and grow with you, and require your attention and resources, particularly, nowadays, as technologies evolve not by years or months, but by days or even hours.

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