Bespoke vs. Off the Shelf Software: Making the Right Choice for You

By Ryan Vice | Posted on April 13, 2020

Technology Trends

An inescapable truth of doing business in our times is that you need technology; it intersects with nearly all business activities. Maybe it’s a POS system to simplify payment processing, an inventory database, a supply chain management system, project management software or literally hundreds of other software solutions created to make doing business easier and more cost-effective. These assets, when designed and implemented correctly, can yield some of the highest ROI of any business practices. 

These types of technology solutions are definitely a need-to-have for your business, but when you go out in search of the right application for your business structure, budget and goals, you’ll find yourself mulling over a critical decision: bespoke vs off the shelf software.

Off the shelf products are anything produced for the mass market. They’re the loafers you bought instead of finding a cobbler to design you a custom pair (do cobblers even exist anymore?). In contrast, bespoke products are tailored or altered to particular specifications. The direction you take your software search in depends on many factors including your timeline, needs and wants, costs and more. Buying a pre-made SaaS product is no more right or wrong than investing in a custom developed application, but the choice shouldn’t be made without carefully researching and considering your options. 

Bespoke vs Off the Shelf Software: Pick Your Song

You’re likely already taking advantage of off the shelf software – Salesforce, QuickBooks, Xero, Square – to optimize and/or automate common activities. These products are created around the idea that most businesses in the same or similar fields experience the same kinds of problems, and so these solutions are created to have broad appeal. Like watered-down pop music, off the shelf software is expected to respond to the desires of as many people as possible. 

Off the Shelf: The Top 40 of Software

Destiny’s Child – Bills, Bills, Bills

One of the most attractive things that draws companies to choosing an existing SaaS product is the price. Most products are available to you for a subscription fee, or you may sometimes have the option to download software for a one time fee. More often than not, SaaS companies are seeing the cost-effectiveness (for them) in offering their product for a monthly or annual subscription since these add up over time. 

Additional features and upgrades will almost always come with extra price tags attached, as well. When evaluating the cost of one of these applications, you need to consider how long you plan to pay for the product, how much you’ll need to pay to get the capabilities you require, whether you’ll need to upgrade in the future as your business grows and whether you’re actually getting a return on your investment. 

The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something right now? If the answer is yes, then you may enjoy the immediate gratification you receive when you choose to go with an off the shelf option. Since it was made for mass production, it takes much less time to set up with your business, train and onboard your users and integrate other tools. In some cases, your business can start using it in a matter of days or weeks. Even the more complex onboarding schedules take a few months, not long at all when you consider the time it took to make the software in the first place. 

Vertical Horizon – Everything You Want

Off the shelf software tends to come with more features and tools than you know what to do with. They’re trying to cater to everyone after all, so what you may find useless may be what other businesses can’t live without. That’s all very egalitarian until you realize that you’re also paying for these features that you do not use. In many cases, in order to acquire the features you actually need, you have to pay for subscription packages that come with a lot of extra junk.

U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

If an off the shelf software doesn’t have all the functionality you’re looking for, you may need purchase upgrades or additional applications as you expand your business. Of course, compatibility is about more than just features; you should also consider your own security requirements, procedures, processes and individual circumstances. 

Bespoke Software: the One Hit Wonder

Businesses often run into problems unique to their own circumstances, and when this happens, the best solution may be a custom creation. Bespoke software specifically fits the needs of your business, your users, your customers and your brand. 

A-ha – Take On Me

From startup to enterprise, custom software has become much more accessible and affordable as technology advances. In a bespoke solution, you’re essentially paying for the cost of development. Once it’s all done, the application is all yours. If you don’t have your own IT department, you may continue to pay a small retainer that covers maintenance and regular updates, but otherwise, most costs associated with custom development are upfront rather than spread out over years of subscription fees. 

Mary Jane Girls – In My House

For any software you contract a development firm to build for you, your business owns the source code for it. That means you have complete authority over all aspects of it: integrations with third party software, new feature requests, expansions as your business scales, security protocols. Even the color scheme is all up to you. Think of bespoke vs off the shelf software like the difference between buying your own home and renting an apartment. In the long term, it’s a better investment that’s beholden to no one.

Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U

Because any bespoke application will be uniquely yours all the way from the source code to the name, you’ll be able to completely align its look and feel with your brand. Navigation will be designed around your user journeys, user privileges will be customized for your individual processes and any customer facing part of the platform will showcase your brand identity. 

What’s Your Soundtrack?

Software is more of a necessity than a luxury for your business, and that’s certainly not expected to change anytime soon. As any CIO or CTO knows, the decision between a bespoke vs off the shelf software solution requires careful research and evaluation of potential products already on the market, the budget available for implementing a new product and of course, what kind of functionality you’re looking for. If you choose to move forward developing your own custom solution, the hard choices don’t end there. Now, you have to find the right development team with the skills and experience to build what you envision. 

By utilizing modern open-source toolkits, a unique lean development model and close, productive relationships with project stakeholders Vice Software delivers software that keeps your value with your business. We’re committed to helping you get the most out of your investment in technology, all while working agilely and keeping within budget. 

Starting a project with us is as simple as getting a quote. With just a little information about your idea, we can start cookin’ up solutions!

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