The advantages of custom software
In this article, we will explore the main benefits and disadvantages of custom software in comparison to standard software, and when & why to use each.
The topic of custom software may initially seem challenging, like the sour apple one sometimes has to reluctantly bite into. However, this article explains that it doesn’t have to be that way.
What is custom software?
There’s no need to fear custom software: As the name suggests, such software is tailored to the needs of an organization and its stakeholders. When a standard software solution cannot meet these needs, and customization is not feasible, then custom software development becomes necessary.
How is custom software used in organizations?
Such a project goes through various phases. Let’s assume that we want to introduce an online shop. We have already captured our requirements by speaking with all stakeholders, including our IT department and our customers, the users.
We have also already looked into standard solutions such as Magento, but have concluded from our analyses that these solutions cannot adequately meet our joint requirements. Therefore, we perform a cost-benefit analysis for custom software development and see that this will be a profitable path.
If we have an in-house development team, we would assign to them the design, planning, and ultimately, the implementation tasks. The development can also be done externally, with a competent development partner. If necessary, the team may receive support from an experienced IT consultant, such as a software architect, who has preferably already gained experience in your industry. At the end of the design phase, we want to see a solid architecture and know which technologies and frameworks will be used.
To minimize development risks, the project is conducted in an agile manner, for example, by following Scrum methodologies. This allows for the earliest possible involvement of the stakeholders. Based on their feedback, course corrections can be made, effectively avoiding unpleasant surprises at the end of the development phase.
After the development is complete, training sessions and a pilot phase are carried out with a limited group of users, who can then, as multiplicators, train the remaining users .
The differences between standard software and custom software
Standard software is purchased “off the shelf.” To stick with this analogy, standard software is like the t-shirt you buy at a department store, available in fixed sizes. Here, only limited customization is possible, such as using an iron-on patch or fabric markers.
On the other hand, custom software is like the tailored three-piece suit that you order from a good tailor. Here an analysis takes place beforehand, in the form of discussing the desired fabrics, and the tailor taking your measurements. Next comes the implementation phase, in which the tailor sews your suit. Finally, there’s a fitting session where adjustments can be made. The expectation here is of a high-quality product, that fully meets your requirements.
Naturally, a tailored suit is more expensive than an off-the-shelf suit. But it fits perfectly! Moreover, unlike with garments, modern software development allows for agile work. This means that change requests and evolving situations can be considered during the development phase of custom software. This significantly reduces the risk of developing the wrong thing.
Additionally, custom software can provide a company with a certain competitive advantage. Think of an online shop tailored precisely to the needs of B2B customers in a specific industry, offering specific features that provide added value. For example, a tile wholesaler’s online shop could offer a calculator that calculates the required amount of tiles, based on the floor area stated by the user. It may not be groundbreaking, but it saves the customer some valuable time.
The advantages and disadvantages of standard software
Purchasing a standard software can be a cost-effective affair, since the development costs of the manufacturer are distributed among their large customer base. Depending on the nature of the software, the implementation process can also be completed in a relatively short time. However, thorough testing and a pilot phase should be conducted beforehand.
The key question here is whether the standard software meets your specific requirements during operation. One should consider the disadvantage of potential follow-up costs that may arise if the software does not fully cover your needs.
Another advantage of standard software lies in its maintenance and further development. The responsibility for the majority of these aspects lies with the software manufacturer. They provide updates, which your IT department can distribute within your organization.
However, the topic of maintenance also poses a significant disadvantage: You have to rely on the manufacturer to fix any errors and address security risks in a timely manner. In the worst case, this might mean that a critical system may be unavailable during the period spent waiting for the manufacturer to resolve the issue.
The advantages and disadvantages of custom software
The decision for or against individual software is a complex matter, since there are also many suitable standard software options. Custom software means that a software solution is developed from scratch, which has many advantages.
What are the main advantages of custom software?
The most important advantages of customized software can be listed as follows:
- Tailored to specific organizational and business needs – increasing the chance of getting a suitable software tailored to the needs of your business,
- Long-term cost savings through increased process efficiency – reducing the cost of redundant operations and unnecessary workflows,
- Adaptability and flexibility of individual software – additional changes to the software functionality are possible after the initial development,
- Increased security and data protection – no security gaps due to outdated software code
- Simple modifications of the software are possible – this increases the adaptability of the software and the efficiency of the organization,
- Direct contact with the manufacturers and solving possible problems .
The development of individual software at a glance
Custom software needs to be developed on your own account, either with an internal development team or with a competent external team. The responsibility and costs for custom software development lie with oneself, rather than with a standard software manufacturer.
A software development project, even an agile one, should not be underestimated. It requires careful planning, and the development team should possess the necessary knowledge for the project. A certain amount of time and resources will inevitably be required. When aware of this fact, as well as the advantages that custom software can provide, then one is able to weigh them against one another in a cost-benefit analysis.
The topic of testing should not be neglected either. It would be advisable to have external software testers perform the final tests, as they bring with them an external, unbiased perspective.
It is crucial to note that not only the development but also the ongoing evolution of the software is in one’s own hands. Every software application “lives”, and during its lifecycle it needs to be updated and continuously adapted to changing circumstances.
These include, for example, changes in peripheral systems, advancements in the underlying technologies, and evolving requirements. It is also important to address the discovery of security risks and to quickly resolve them. Of course, the ongoing development of custom software also requires the allocation of the necessary resources.
The operational aspect of custom software
During the operation of your custom software, its advantages come to fruition as you reap the rewards of the preceding development work. If this has been done correctly, then you can expect an application that fulfills your requirements almost completely.
Custom software can be precisely tailored to integrate with your existing IT landscape. Existing applications and systems can be connected using custom-built interfaces.
The examples of custom software are ubiquitous and testify to the value custom software has for businesses.
When should you use custom software?
This depends heavily on the working methods of your organization, your existing IT landscape, and the other requirements of your stakeholders. The question will be whether any standard software available on the market can adequately address these factors.
Working methods of your organization
Your users should be able to work with the new software with minimal retraining. Trying to adjust your own business workflows to fit a cost-effective standard software is not a good idea. This approach would fail to meet the needs of your users, customers, and those of the other stakeholders. It would most likely lead to frustration and dissatisfaction among all parties. Therefore, the use of custom software is advisable when your organization employs working methods that are poorly supported by any standard software.
Your IT landscape
Which of your existing IT systems does your new software need to integrate with? Perhaps you operate a core system that is so unique that it cannot be effectively connected to any existing standard software. In such cases, you could consider developing a custom middleware, which can interface with standard software.
You also need to consider the computing devices used in your organization or by your customers. If there are still mobile Windows CE devices with barcode scanners in your warehouse, then you will need to decide whether developing a custom app might be more cost-effective than purchasing entirely new devices.
In particular the topic of security tends to bring along its own set of requirements. Standard software is developed to cater to a broad range of customers, and not all of them have the same high-security needs as government agencies or the banking sector. For instance, mobile operating systems have been developed as custom software solutions to meet the demands of secure digital communication.
How can one maximize the benefits of custom software?
Custom software can only realize its maximum benefits if it was designed with a focus on the requirements, the right technologies were chosen, and both agility and quality were considered during development. Only then can the software fully meet the specified requirements, which of course is the primary reason for opting for custom software in the first place.
However, your operation must also be aligned with the new software to fully utilize its capabilities. Training sessions for both your IT staff and your users will be necessary. Ultimately, it is also crucial that your custom software does stay frozen in time but is continuously developed and, if needed, modernized. This ensures that its benefits endure for as long as possible.
What risks are involved in developing custom software?
Risks exist to be minimized, but first, they need to be known. Just like with any software development, developing custom software carries specific risks that should be considered.
Good preparation is (almost) everything
Proper IT planning and a well-thought-out software design are essential for a successful software project. Neglecting these aspects can lead to the project’s costs exceeding its budget. The necessary resources might not have been adequately allocated, and the software model might not be adapted to the situation. In some cases, a significant portion of the development work might need to be discarded, and the project may have to be restarted from scratch. This is definitely something to avoid!
It is advisable to include a buffer in your project budget to be prepared for unforeseen events. If an internal team is responsible for the development, then do make sure that they possess the necessary knowledge and the tools to handle it. The right training and the involvement of an external consultant can help here.
A competent software architect’s experience can be beneficial to ensure that the right software model is chosen.
“This is not what we wanted!”
This scenario might be familiar from traditional waterfall software projects. The developers receive the requirements and disappear with their development submarine for a few months. After the development is completed, they present a product that does not meet the organization’s requirements. This is because some requirements were “clarified” by the management during the development without being communicated properly, while other requirements completely changed due to new market conditions or IT systems. How can one be proactive in such situations?
As mentioned earlier, the solution lies in agile methods, which involves iterative software development. All stakeholders are involved in the iterative development process, witnessing the evolving product at each stage and providing feedback that is incorporated by the agile development team. In this way, there are no surprises at the end, and the application ultimately satisfies everyone involved.
Security comes first
Your new custom software should not only function well but it also has to be secure. Neglecting the aspect of security is a serious risk. This aspect begins with choosing a secure architecture and framework and ends with conducting the right penetration tests and implementing the necessary security updates during operation.
This point is crucial when engaging an external development team to implement your custom software under a contract. First, ensure that your contract stipulates that the intellectual property rights to the developed software are assigned to your organization. Additionally, make sure that your organisation will own the complete code and all of the application’s other development resources. If you later plan to maintain the software internally or with another software developer, having ownership of the code will be essential.
How can we support you in the field of custom software?
During the analysis: Do you actually need custom software?
Together, we will examine your business workflows and gather all the requirements from all of your stakeholders. Can these requirements be met by standard software? Would using a standard software still be feasible in the future? How would it integrate with your existing IT landscape and applications? These are all questions we will clarify with you, so that in the end, you will have an effective and documented decision-making aid.
During planning: How can custom software be developed to precisely meet your needs?
With our experience as software architects, we can actively support you and your team in designing your new software. Good preparation is crucial to avoid difficult situations during the development and during the software’s operation in the future.
Moreover, with our expertise in successfully managing large IT projects, you can be assured that the planning and execution of your project are in safe hands.
During implementation: We can help you develop your custom software using agile methods
We are not afraid to participate in development work. Thanks to our years of experience in developing enterprise, B2B, and B2C solutions in various industries, we are more than capable of doing so! We employ agile methods and can also organize agile development teams. As mentioned before, this allows us to minimize unpleasant surprises and account for changing situations during the development phase.
Custom software consulting at 72.Services
The arguments for custom software are valid, but ultimately it is up to you or your company to weigh the pros and cons of choosing custom software over standard software.
If after reading this article, you feel that the benefits of custom software outweigh the costs, feel free to contact us! We offer custom web development services for businesses large and small. You can check out our previous case studies here.