Bespoke vs. off-the-shelf software

It’s not a simple matter at all to decide whether to buy tailored software solutions or off-the-shelf software packages. Marc Bray, marketing director of international software applications company, Logsys, researches the pros, cons and cost efficiency of both.

Developing companies aiming at automation and simplification of business processes invest more and more money in IT systems. This implies that IT systems market is enormous and limited only by imagination and budget.

Automation of different business functions raises the question whether to use bespoke or off-the-shelf solutions.

Bespoke Software Development

There are several important factors to be considered when opting for an in-house IT team or outsourcing the work to a specialist company.

Bespoke systems attract with their accurate meeting the exact requirements of the company which allows for full integration, meeting the legislation or key business objectives.

Your company grows and your bespoke systems must extend too – that is the point of scalability of bespoke solutions which are able to accommodate business growth. Your bespoke system will move on and grow together with your company to perfectly fit it.

This became possible because bespoke systems were designed with forward-looking IT plans of company-customer. Such software ensures that the company will move on instead of just tread mill automation.

Theoretically, every company would have bespoke software if not to mention three crucial preventative factors:

First of all, bespoke software can be much more expensive than off-the-shelf solutions. Individually developed software often requires large teams of professionals possessing particular skills such as analysts, programmers, hardware and software specialists and technical writers.

The time and human resources needed to develop and support a bespoke system quickly adds up. But successfully developed bespoke software can be sold to third parties and bring extra revenue for the company.

Secondly, bespoke software can only meet the requirements clearly defined by the customer to the extent customer and developer understood them. If customer sees no further than his nose and has no general strategy and long term IT plans – it will be quite difficult to determine the business requirements.

Completed product will hardly have potential to evolve with the company, with bugs and misconceptions at the early stages of development which cause to spiralling costs and delayed delivery.

Thirdly, one must consider compatibility issues. Software must be compatible with existing systems and if not – problems are definitely to arise.

The opportunity of integration may not be provided in legacy systems therefore data transfer between systems may have a major impact not only on inter-operation of systems but on the overall functioning of the business.

In general, off-the-shelf systems are designed to fit a particular market or sector. They have generic set of functionalities for all businesses and some customization for more complex applications.

Usually such solutions are easy-to-deploy and easy-to-use. One should keep in mind that off-the-shelf solutions are often compiled from the best components of various software systems which were conceived as bespoke package designed for specific needs – if s, must it mean that that off-the-shelf gives users the very best?

Software and systems development is an elaborated process which requires involvement of skills and expertise of many professionals, much time and resources. However, off-the-shelf systems may have limited efficiency compared to expected and you may waste lots of money to support it.

Here works the main rule: off-the-shelf system is tried and true and support for it is available almost 24/7 – you’re not the first to go.

Another way to avoid expenses and get access to off-the-shelf products is through a managed services company. They purchase the products and allow clients to use them as part of a managed services contract, which results in a much more cost effective solution.

Though customer has no any rights for the software, but he avoids all the issues associated with products update and support.

Unless company’s activity is that unique that no off the shelf solution fits it, company can buy a suitable off-the-shelf solution that is the result of hundreds of thousands of man-hours of development and fine tuning.

The low cost of off-the-shelf software is the result of mass marketing – meaning that many companies within the same market sector purchase the same software which gives no opportunities for competition in functionalities.

If your ongoing reprocesses are unique or you wish the unique functionalities to be implemented, then you should decide for a bespoke solution which will fit best. It will deliver much more comprehensive result compared to a commercial off the shelf solution.

The third alternative is a a compromise between off-the-shelf and bespoke solutions. Dedicated IT companies can create a mixture of commercial off-the-shelf software and bespoke functionalities to make perfect fit for customer’s requirements.

The main challenge is further on to seamlessly integrate the developed bespoke functionalities to existing system with least disruptions. This promptly gives the customer significant advantages over competitors with the same system deployed.

The Pareto 80:20 principle can be applied to this scenario. Having 80 per cent of the application already available enables the remaining 20 per cent to be configured specific to customer requirements.

Such approach is specifically suited in case when 80 per cent of administration and other crucial functionalities are already running and 20 per cent of bespoke configuration to be implemented and seamlessly integrated on the fly.

Cost efficiency of such approach is another benefit. Modifications or additions to ongoing software package will not cost tens of thousands of pounds compared to development of a full system. And this task can be given to an in-house dedicated IT team dealing with ongoing IT issues.

As requirements to software grow and people become more aware of computers, appears a hope that future off-the-shelf software will be more multifaceted and will have more extended functionalities. But bespoke systems will still lead the race with off-the-shelf software just the consumer software, copies of successful bespoke solutions.

The most intricate problem to deal with further on is how to combine strengths of each whilst eliminating their weaknesses. Market requires new solutions and approaches and more companies try to fill up this niche.

Whether to use bespoke or off-the-shelf software?