The future of business is process perfection. Whether you’re a little-startup-that-could trying to disrupt an extant industry or a corporate behemoth trying to stay ahead of the competition, the future belongs to those who can find ways to do things faster and more efficiently. For most companies, process perfection involves software, but that can come with its own set of challenges. Chief among them is this: should I hire a team to build custom software that best suits the needs of my employees? Or should I buy off-the-shelf software that won’t require development time? In this post, we’ll look closely at the costs and benefits of both options to help you determine which choice is right for your company.
The benefits of off-the-shelf software are obvious: you don’t have to do any work (except implementing it)! It’s usually cheaper to buy an existing product than to pay to develop your own, and you can have it up and running immediately, especially if it’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) with no hardware or software to install. Upgrades to the software may be provided for free or at a lower cost, and support is often included as part of the contract. You don’t have to build it; you don’t have to maintain it – what’s not to like?
Well, as it turns out, quite a bit. Processes built with existing software are rigid and difficult – if not impossible to scale. Let’s say you build a mobile app with app-building software – what happens when you want to add onto the existing product? You could issue a feature request, but unless it’s something that the entire customer base is asking for, that request is likely to be ignored – hell, even then the change might not go through. What if you want to do something the app-building software doesn’t account for? You either have to port or rebuild the whole program or give up on growth. This is to say nothing of the IP issues that can arise when you build a program with non-proprietary software. That’s right: you might build an app that takes off only to find that you don’t own any part of the program you can actually use.
From a purely financial view, these issues mean that off-the-shelf software can often end up costing more than a custom package, whether because you have to rebuild the program on a new platform or because you have to pay the developers insane customization fees. And from a long-term view, non-proprietary software often kills your ability to grow effectively. And – to quote Tom Peters – every modern business has two options: “Grow or die.”
Certainly, there are situations where building custom software would be a case of reinventing the wheel. Sometimes the most important thing is to ship a product (like the app mentioned above) as quickly as possible. And if you don’t yet have a defined process for your company, out-of-the-box software can help define how you conduct business.
But for the most cost-effective growth solution, there really is no replacement for high-quality custom software. Don’t like a feature? It can be changed. Have a specific concern that only affects your customer base? No problem. Custom software is also less susceptible to external threats than off-the-shelf software because most successful cyberattacks come from exploiting known vulnerabilities in common software. Proprietary software also allows for integration with your existing software programs or packages – something that may or may not be supported by out-of-the-box programs. And with custom development, your software remains supported as long as you want it to be, rather than being at the mercy of another application.
Remember: the key words in today’s market are “process perfection.” Not process improvement. Too many companies are willing to settle for the latter just because it has a lower up-front cost, but now that you know the difference, you can be better.