When organizations need applications with unique features and functionality, they turn to software developers to design and create custom solutions. Custom software addresses users’ specific needs more comprehensively than traditional off-the-shelf packages.
While the idea of software tailored to your business sounds appealing, custom software development isn’t for everyone. The process can be expensive and time-consuming, and it’s challenging to convey the scope of the functionality you need.
We’ll look at custom software vs. off-the-shelf solutions and help you determine if custom software development is something your business should pursue.
Packaged software applications are available for nearly every computing, business, productivity and communications task imaginable.
These packages generally offer the following features.
Despite the variety of off-the-shelf software available, some organizations require specific capabilities that general software can’t provide. If this is the case, they may turn to customized software development. Here’s what custom software has to offer:
Custom software’s most significant benefit is providing features that off-the-shelf software doesn’t. After the custom-designed solution is implemented, the problems it solves can be well worth the costs.
For example, if you commission an application designed to increase productivity, the resulting rise in efficiency can offset the cost of building the solution. If your custom software addresses unique time and attendance or payroll challenges, you can save money and maximize your employees’ time.
If your organization has a need that’s specific enough to warrant custom software, designing a solution is an excellent idea.
If implementing a custom software solution was inexpensive and easy, everyone would do it. Unfortunately, costs and risks make designing a custom software solution challenging.
Commissioning a custom software application is expensive and time-consuming, so you shouldn’t undertake this project lightly. Look for these signs that a custom software application may be worthwhile.
Consider a custom software solution if your employees deal with overwhelming paperwork or perform multiple workarounds daily. These inefficiencies can interfere with productivity and impact morale.
Here are some red flags that your current system isn’t working.
Many small businesses spend excessive time and resources manipulating financial, customer and sales data in spreadsheets. A custom software solution can automatically interface with your data sources, such as point-of-sale systems, and create quick and informative reports and charts.
This efficiency allows businesses to spend their time making decisions based on the data instead of massaging it into a usable format.
A custom software package can give your sales team, or other on-the-road employees, access to proprietary information you wouldn’t feel comfortable putting on Slack or other cloud-based collaboration tools. Your software developer can create a unique, secure and encrypted collaboration platform.
Displaying only the information remote employees need – and safeguarding the rest of your data – lets you enable collaboration and keep your company data safe from data breaches.
If you’re in a nascent industry or have an innovative product, process or service, there may not be any off-the-shelf solutions for you. Or your organization may be introducing new ways of doing business. For example, Uber needed to create custom software for its drivers and customers; even though the business model existed already through taxis, the app-based ride-sharing process was new.
Developing a custom software application can maintain or improve customer retention and satisfaction levels, reduce errors, and boost sales as your company grows. Because the custom solution is something you created, you have the flexibility to expand it and add users, locations and functionality as needed.
Selecting a company to create a software application for your business can be a challenge. You’ll need to find acceptable candidates and hire a company or professional that promises the right price and service level.
Typically, you’ll meet with prospective software development partners to ensure everyone’s on the same page about what’s needed and the total amount of work that’s required to create the custom solution. Next, your candidates will submit bids based on development time and costs. Bids aren’t set in stone; some projects will engender additional time and expenses.
Try not to focus on the most attractive, lowest-priced bid. It’s critical to select the company that will best meet your needs.
Here are some tips for selecting a custom software development provider:
If you move ahead with custom software development, follow these best practices to ensure the process goes smoothly.
To build anything, including software, it’s critical to define your current process, expectations and success criteria.
Ensure you understand the following:
The following people and organizations can develop custom software:
It’s tempting to say you’ll handle everything in-house to save money. But using your own IT team for this purpose has drawbacks. First, your team already has obligations; pulling them from daily work could cause slowdowns for the entire business. Second, your tech personnel may not be trained or experienced in software development.
Outsourcing this process often makes the most sense. You can work with teams that have successfully designed and implemented other custom software. You may even be able to find a company that specializes in products for your industry.
Create a team that includes your developers, subject-matter experts and a project manager to lead and direct the overall initiative. Together, create a road map for the project. Ensure it’s realistic; you can’t create a complex workflow and shipping system in a week.
Plan for milestones to keep the project on track. These are various development stages that should be completed at specific time and budget intervals. Review the work at each milestone to understand if you need to change your planned timeline or budget.
Outline the milestones, testing period and support in the custom software development contract so there are no misunderstandings.
Before implementing the new software across your entire business, test it. Testing usually occurs on the technical level and the user level.
Documentation is important for all stages of development and implementation. This should include the following:
Ryan Goodrich contributed to the writing and research in this article.