If you are contemplating an investment in software, one of the first decisions you need to make is whether to use a commercial package (off the shelf) or to commission bespoke software, that is, a system which is custom designed to fit the needs of your business.
If you are considering bespoke software, chances are you have investigated commercial software and have encountered one or more of these situations:
- The software is too elaborate for your requirements. There are a lot of features you don’t need and don’t want to pay for.
- The software has features you need, but doesn’t work with other systems you’ve already got in place.
- The software has some features you need, but is either not configurable enough, or is very expensive to configure.
- The developer has plans to add new features you need now but your business cannot influence the speed with which those new features are implemented.
These issues arise because the standard features of commercial packages are designed to be useful for the maximum number of users and are developed according to the demands of the greatest number of customers. Fair enough, but what about those idiosyncratic aspects of your business—the ways you communicate internally, the systems that need to talk to each other, the processes that keep your business ticking over? Shouldn’t your software be designed around the way you do business?
Bespoke software gives you flexibility and control in a way commercial packages cannot.
The direct relationship between you and the software developer means:
- The system functionality arises from a thorough understanding of your business and your requirements.
- You control the pace of development. Upgrades do not depend on waiting for the next release.
- The feature set includes only the functionality you need now, and is designed to expand in the way you expect your business to expand.
- You do not have to change the way you operate to accommodate the demands of the software.
- A good developer can suggest further functionality to improve efficiency.
Additionally, when you are running bespoke software:
- Bespoke software comes with bespoke support. Your developer knows your system and how you use it and can respond to any questions quickly. If packaged software fails to perform, you could end up trawling inadequate FAQs or joining a help line queue for email or phone support.
- No license fees.
- No obsolescence. When your requirements change along with your business, you can commission additional functionality that works with your existing system.
And lastly, when an application is built to your requirements, you can often save time and money when it comes to teaching your staff how to use it. An application developed according to your own specification will slot more easily into your existing business processes and should be intuitive to your staff.
In conclusion, bespoke software, together with a good relationship with a software developer, can produce significant benefits for your business. Of course, there are still some considerations you need to be aware of:
- A good developer will not have a problem with letting you have the source code, so that you retain independence and control over your software.
- Enterprise software, whether proprietary or bespoke, is a serious investment. A cost-benefit analysis will help decide whether a bespoke solution makes sense.
- As with all industries, there are unprofessional developers out there, so make sure you see examples of the developers’ work, get references and follow them up.