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Bespoke Software Development: Advantages & Disadvantages

Software has become an integral part of the success of any business in our modern times.

As a business owner, leveraging innovative software solutions can help you streamline your operations, automate tasks, and gain a competitive edge.

There are two routes to go when considering a software solution for your business: bespoke software and off-the-shelf software. Off-the-shelf software might seem like the easier and faster solution, but if you do the maths, it’s very likely that you’ll prefer to opt for bespoke software instead.

But is bespoke software development the right choice for your business? What are its pros and cons? That’s exactly what we’ll be shedding lighting on in this guide. So, let’s get right into it!

What Is Bespoke Software?

Bespoke software is software that’s individually customised for your business needs. Think about a vehicle designed from the ground up to fit your needs.

From the engine to the exterior and seating, everything is designed exactly to meet your needs. It’s the same with bespoke software; you’re getting a software solution that fits your functional needs and grows with your business.

Why Is It Called Bespoke Software?

Tailored software is called bespoke software simply because it’s designed to meet individual business needs. You’re essentially getting a unique piece of software that handles all your requirements efficiently and flexibly.

Difference Between Bespoke and Off-the-Shelf Software Solutions

The primary difference between bespoke and off-the-shelf software solutions is that with bespoke software, you’re getting a custom-built software solution only for your business. On the other side of the coin, off-the-shelf software solutions are standardised and serve the same features and interface for all businesses.

Setting that aside, the difference between bespoke and off-the-shelf software solutions can be summarised in the following 3 key aspects:

Functionality

Off-the-shelf software is designed to meet the needs of as many businesses as possible, regardless of their size, requirements, or industry. That can be either a good or bad thing, depending on how you view it.

Off-the-shelf software is rigorously tested and tried before it rolls out to the masses, ensuring that everything works as you expect. Not to mention, if it’s popular, your staff members may already be familiar with it.

Attempting to meet the demands of all businesses will often result in a complex software solution that may not be the most efficient or easiest to use. And even with the attempts to make it suitable for everyone, you’ll probably end up requiring some missing features.

In opposition, bespoke software is developed to have the functions you regularly need in your business. It’s tested to meet the requirements of your systems.

Availability

Off-the-shelf solutions are readily available at any time, while bespoke software requires you to specify your requirements, get a quote, and wait for the development team to finalise it.

Cost

Off-the-shelf software solutions are often cheaper than bespoke software solutions, but only at first. The initial development process for off-the-shelf software is already done, and it was intended to be a commercial solution for all businesses, so you won’t pay a high upfront cost.

Bespoke software is custom-developed for your business, so you’d naturally expect it to cost you more money. However, as we will uncover, bespoke software will result in a higher ROI over time.

Advantages of Bespoke Software

There are many benefits of opting for bespoke software development. From cost reduction to higher efficiency and flexibility, bespoke software opens up new opportunities for your business to grow and scale.

Here are some of the advantages of bespoke software:

Customised Software Solution

Bespoke software is designed to meet your business requirements. Once it’s finalised, the software will naturally fit into your existing processes and systems. It’s a unique solution built to make your work better and more efficient.

Pay for What You Need

When you invest in off-the-shelf software, there’s a good chance that it’ll be missing some key features that your business can’t do without, forcing you to buy one or more complementary software solution(s) to run your business.

There’s also an even higher possibility that the software will have tons of features you don’t really need at that time but will have to pay for them, anyway.

Not to mention, these extra functionalities can make the software harder to use for your employees, slowing down your processes.

In either case, you’re not getting the best value for your money.

With bespoke software, you only pay for what you get. Every feature and function you request in the software will have its own cost, so you don’t need to worry about exceeding your budget.

You prioritise features by importance to meet your capital constraints. So, if something isn’t important but would be nice to have, you can decide whether to include it or not based on your budget.

Higher-Quality Support and Updates

Commercial software solutions are updated regularly, regardless if you ask for an update or not. Occasional updates that bring in some bug fixes and performance enhancement are fine, but major updates that modify the features or user interface may not always be welcome.

With bespoke software, your tailored software will only be updated when you report a problem or ask for an additional feature or UI change.

What’s more, requesting support with commercial solutions may not always be convenient. You could report a problem you have, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll be handled anytime soon unless a significant number of other users report a similar issue. Let alone ask for core changes or features.

Per contra, getting support with your bespoke software is a much more delightful experience. It’s your software, so whenever there’s a problem, rest assured that it’ll be handled in a short time span.

Control the Development Pace

While you can’t push the development of your bespoke software, you may still be able to control the development. For example, if you’re still discussing certain features or other key aspects of the software with your team, you can request that the development slows down or stops until you reach a decision.

Return on Investment

As a business owner, maximising your ROI (Return on Investment) should be your top priority. With bespoke software, your investment will definitely pay off in the long term.

There’s a high initial cost involved with bespoke software, but the good news is that you’ll start reaping the benefits right away. For starters, you’ll give your business the upper hand over your competitors. In addition, you’ll drastically save on time and human resources.

You’ll end up using your bespoke software for many years simply because there would be no better alternative than a software solution with your company’s name on it.

Scalable

If you’re starting a small business, you can build bespoke software that only matches your current requirements and budget. Then, as your business grows and your software demands increase, you can simply upgrade your software to scale with your business.

That’s not the case with other commercial software solutions. As your business grows, you’ll probably end up switching to a more powerful alternative, which will cost you more money than simply introducing some tweaks to your existing software.

Plus, getting a new commercial software solution means you’ll have to integrate it into your system and train your employees on how to use it all over again.

Adaptability

Bespoke software solutions easily adapt to your changing needs. If you want to adjust something in the software, you have the authority to do so. Many bespoke software developers even provide companies with the software’s source code.

Unlike commercial software solutions, you have a say in the future development of the software.

Better Security

Off-the-shelf software solutions often lack the security features needed to prevent cyber attacks, leaving your sensitive corporate data at risk.

With bespoke software, you don’t have to worry about data breaches since hackers don’t even know your software exists. Furthermore, unlike off-the-shelf software, hackers haven’t already figured out how to penetrate your system through the software.

Suppose they managed to find a vulnerability in an off-the-shelf software program. In that case, they could easily replicate the process with any business that uses the same software, which isn’t the case with bespoke software.

They might attempt to exploit it, but the process will be much slower for them, giving you enough time to protect your data.

It’s also worth noting that bespoke software has built-in security measures that eliminate the need for third-party protection, which isn’t the case with commercial software solutions.

No Compatibility or Integration Issues

One of the key selling points of bespoke software is that you can build software that’s compatible with your system and can be integrated easily to work with other software you already use.

For example, if you use a particular file format, your bespoke software will be designed to be compatible with it. Moreover, you don’t have to worry about how it’ll fit into your ecosystem because you’ll simple specify the software you already use with the bespoke software provider, and they’ll make sure that your custom-built software can work with it.

Efficient

Bespoke software solutions are usually much more efficient than off-the-shelf ones for many reasons.

For example, with bespoke software, you can specify your requirements for the UI, meaning there won’t be any learning curve involved. Plus, since the software is built according to your requirements, it’ll be designed to handle these requirements as efficiently as possible.

Additionally, by familiarising yourself with your staff’s skills and technical background, you can build a software solution they can get up and running quickly and conveniently. This will not only boost productivity but also foster a healthy working life for your employees since they won’t be frustrated with the software.

On top of all that, bespoke software is designed based on the latest standards and methodologies in the software development industry, ensuring that it looks modern and up-to-date. Commercial solutions that haven’t seen a major update for a few years will often look outdated and feel odd.

Flexible

Many off-the-shelf software solutions have multiple packages that customers can choose from based on their needs. And while that level of flexibility is definitely appreciated, it doesn’t come close to the flexibility you get with bespoke software. You’re essentially building your software block by block, giving you the ultimate level of flexibility and customizability.

Downsides of Bespoke Software

Despite having lots of perks, choosing bespoke software isn’t always the ideal solution. Here’s why:

High Initial Costs

Since bespoke software is designed exclusively for your company, expect the initial investment to be higher than when you choose an off-the-shelf software package. This is because the software solution provider creates an entirely new project for your company rather than selling you an existing software solution, hence the higher cost.

No Existing Users or Trials

Another problem with bespoke software is that you can’t test the product with a trial before you get it. And because the software is individually customised for your business, there aren’t any existing users that you can ask for feedback on the software.

However, most reputable software houses will give you some “beta” releases that you can experiment with before receiving the final product. It might also help to check reviews about the software solution provider before doing business with it.

Long Waiting Time

Unlike off-the-shelf software solutions that you can instantly start using after buying, you’ll need to wait a while for your bespoke software solution to be developed, tested, and debugged.

The exact TAT (Turn around Time) will vary depending on the provider and your requirements, but you should expect to wait somewhere from 4 to 12 months for your custom-built software to be ready.

A good approach here would be to get things going with an off-the-shelf solution until your tailored software package is finalised, but when you can’t afford to wait for a customised solution.

It’d also be a good idea to choose a cheap off-the-shelf solution so that you don’t spend much on something you won’t use in the long term.

Miscommunication Can Be Costly

When you opt for bespoke software, you must be very specific and clear with your requirements so that the software development team creates a solution that exactly matches your needs.

If your requirements were misinterpreted for some reason, your bespoke software might lack certain features or functionalities, requiring you to request modifications, making the development process longer.

Convincing Stakeholders Can be Tricky

Most stakeholders prefer to minimise risk by opting for a tried and tested commercial software solution rather than investing in one that doesn’t exist yet, especially because it costs more money initially.

That’s why it’s important you clarify the value that bespoke software can present for your company. Involving the stakeholders and keeping them updated with the development process is also vital, especially since stakeholders often like to see a fast ROI.

No Community-Based Support

With commercial solutions, you can easily ask for quick fixes to any problem you encounter on user forums. Even a quick Google search will answer your query in most cases. Not to mention, you’ll be able to contact existing support for assistance.

With bespoke software, you won’t find any other users for your software simply because it’s designed specifically for your company’s needs. Nevertheless, bespoke software development companies provide support for companies in the rare event that you actually need it.

Since the software is designed to meet your needs from the beginning, you shouldn’t encounter any major problems.

An Off-the-Shelf Solution Might Be More Suitable

In some cases, you’re better off opting for a commercial software solution if it fits your needs. It’s not easy to find a pre-made software solution that does everything you need, but you should be able to find one that comes as close as possible to what you’re looking for.

If you’re running a small business, you’d want your initial investment to pay off immediately, meaning you can’t afford to wait up to 12 months for your bespoke software to be ready. You need to generate a high monthly revenue as soon as possible, and an off-the-shelf software solution might be good enough for that.

Bespoke Software Development – Conclusion

To recap, a bespoke software solution can definitely be a reliable choice for your business. You’ll be able to handle your operations with custom-built software that does exactly what you need; no more, no less.

And whenever you need to scale your business and do more with your software, you can simply ask for some changes in it so that it adapts to your current position.

Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about unnecessary/unwanted updates, cybersecurity vulnerabilities, or lack of support.

Stavros Zavrakas

Since a very young age, Stavros has been passionate about the power of technology which pushed him to study Computer Science at the University of Crete. Throughout his career, he worked as a full-stack software engineer and lead developer and acted as a mentor tackling challenging IT problems of various industries - from healthcare to publishing.

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© 2020 Orthogonality Ltd // Company Number: 11115046