Common concerns about custom v off the shelf software
Based on all of the meetings and discussions we have had with our clients and those who call us for advice about custom data management systems the most common concerns are firstly cost and secondly ongoing support and updates. Let us talk you through both, but before we start we will make it crystal clear from the get-go that if after reviewing your requirements and system specifications there is an off-the-shelf software package that does exactly what you want and can be demonstrated to work the way you need it to we will recommend that you do not go down the custom system route.
1) Cost: Custom vs Off the Shelf Software
Ok so assuming that off-the-shelf packages are not ticking all of the boxes required and a custom solution is required, let us start with the first concern of cost.
An off-the-shelf package will often require “modules”, and they regularly have varying hardware and software requirements that will mean a mix of server operating systems and potentially several different server-based databases all with individual licensing issues to overcome, also resulting in higher hardware overheads. And when third-party licences and hardware requirements are taken into account the costs go up.
As we only build the features that are required, as well as using a single development platform/database, the licensing requirements will all be clearly outlined in your quote. We will not include any features that you do not require and therefore, the overhead of multiple database/platform servers is removed so we can often vastly reduce the hardware required to run the custom solution as well.
In a recent consultancy exercise, the cost for a custom-built system was approximately half that of the off-the-shelf package (including all “configuration”, installation, licensing and hardware).
When selecting an off-the-shelf software system for your business you may have an online or in-house demonstration of a company’s products, prove their credentials, and discuss your requirements and raise all relevant questions. You will (hopefully) have a requirements list and as you go through the demonstration you will be ticking off requirements that you feel have been met by the product being demonstrated. You may even grade how well the product meets that particular feature or set of tasks.
At the end of the demonstration, you may be left with a series of features on your wish list that have not been shown and possibly a list of queries about whether the system can be configured to work in a slightly different way to meet these specific requirements.
There may be times when the salesperson will tell you that they can’t show you as that feature is “in development” or that the system will do that when the installation team configure the system for your installation. Their quotation will then show the number of days work per feature that you have asked to see changed etc.
While not always the case, this often means that they will be customising the system for your requirements and thus you will end up losing several of the benefits of an off-the-shelf package, one of which will be the cost which will rise dramatically.
2) Ongoing Support: Custom vs Off the Shelf Software
One of the second most raised concerns is the sustainability of the software package as well as its longevity. An off-the-shelf package is likely to be supported and updated by a large company dedicated to its maintenance. This provides some reassurance that the package will be in use for some time to come. When purchasing a software package, especially one that is going to be critical to the operation of your business, support of the application is going to be crucial to you, off-the-shelf applications are usually produced by larger companies with a dedicated support team and a support hotline that you can call within operating hours.
However, as soon as that package has been customised for your installation and you have a problem with that particular section, this support team will no longer be able to help you. In fact, the only person available to help you may, in fact, be the single developer who changed the system on your behalf. This developer may be on leave, may have left for greener pastures or may not have your particular customisations available to them within any short timeframe.
A custom software developer though, is often a smaller company (often the developer will be the company owner), with a much lower churn of developers and as it’s smaller, the developers with the company are often all aware of every installation they have created. They will often be set up such that development versions of every install they have can be kept around for any support requirements. Given the smaller company size, the support line is very often the developer who created your application in the first place and therefore is completely aware of your installation when you call in.
Software companies are often purchased for obscure patents and copyrights, often meaning that the package you are running may be left by the wayside or discontinued (especially if the purchaser has a competing product that they want to sell you). A custom piece of software, developed by a smaller software house is much less likely to suffer this though as their assets tend to be the developers rather than a specific piece of code. On top of this with a custom piece of software, you can almost always negotiate the provision of the source code as a part of the development, you will almost never receive this with an off-the-shelf package. In the event of the loss of the primary custom software development company, the system and all of its code are yours and can be transferred to another developer.
As well as all of this, recent economic realities have proven that even the largest companies can become economically unviable and therefore your software package may end up unsupported and may inevitably need replacing anyway.
Conclusion: Custom vs Off the Shelf Software
Whilst there can be a good case for purchasing an off-the-shelf package, there is also a considerable advantage to having your own produced in a lot of cases. A piece of software or a database system written specifically for you is often smaller, faster and works in the way that you want rather than the way various disparate groups want it to work. There is often no significant disadvantage to having this software produced, provided you are careful in selecting the developer who will be creating it for you. For a free and absolutely no obligation quote just give us a call or email us to set up a discussion and we can talk you through all of your requirements.