What’s Better for Your Company: Custom Software or “Off the Rack”?

Tip: Run through this list and check off the pros and cons that are most important to you and your company.
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Every company on the planet relies on software. There’s no way to escape that reality. Software is used by employees to work with data, which integrates with the company backend to help deliver products and services to consumers or empower other businesses to work with your delivery chain and various pipelines.

That software comes in many shapes and sizes; it can be open-source or proprietary, come free or with a charge, it can be written in Java, JavaScript, .NET, Python, or Ruby. The software you use can be delivered via a traditional desktop client, via SaaS, or as a web application. 

The software employed by your company can also be either custom or “off the rack.” And that is one of the most important distinctions you might ever have to consider for your software. Will you have your software developed in-house (or by an offshore or nearshore development team), or will you purchase proprietary solutions from a third-party?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each. Hopefully, we can help you decide which is better for your company.

 

Custom Software

To be clear, custom software doesn’t have to be developed in-house. You can also hire third-party solutions (such as onshore, nearshore, or offshore development firms) to create the software for you. Which route you take will depend on your budget, the levels of talent you have in-house, and how much time your company developers have to spare for such projects. Of course, if you have in-house software developers, chances are pretty good they’ll have enough time to actually develop the software you need, given that is their job.

But what are the pros and cons of custom software? Let’s take a look.

 

Pros of Custom Software

 

It’s exactly what you want

This might be the single most important reason why you should go for custom software. When you either develop software in-house or have a third party do the job, the end result is exactly what you want and need. Bespoke software is precisely tailored for the purpose at hand, so all of the necessary tweaks and configurations are built right in. 

 

It is cost-effective

You might already have a team of developers that you pay to develop software. If that’s the case, you could assign them to create the tools you need to keep your business humming. However, the costs of that can scale very quickly, which is why many businesses prefer to hire a third-party to do the job, even if they have their own IT team. Why? Because your admins won’t have to spend nearly the time implementing the solution. Custom software should just drop into your back- or front-end as though it were made for that specific purpose—because it was. 

 

It can better integrate with other solutions

So much of the software being used by enterprise businesses is open-source. In some instances, proprietary solutions have trouble integrating with open-source software. When you go the custom route, you don’t have to worry about whether or not that software will integrate with the other tools in your business, because it will “just work.” If you do have a mixture of proprietary and custom software, your developers (or those you outsource) should be able to make it work without too much trouble.

 

Higher return on investment

One thing about custom software is that the ROI is much higher than that of off the shelf solutions. Why? First off, you’ll spend less money putting the software to work. Once you put the custom solution in place, it’ll “just work,” so your admins won’t have to spend much time configuring and tweaking it to fit into your software pipeline. And because you’ll have access to the code, your in-house (or third-party) developers can more easily make changes, upgrade, and even add features. And since your in-house or third-party developers know the software (inside and out), they can more readily support the solution.

 

Flexibility

Custom software is also much more flexible than off the shelf solutions. Need a feature added? Easy. Discover a bug that needs to be fixed? No problem. Need that solution to integrate with a specific API? Done.

 

Security

Custom software allows your developers to see the code. And when your engineers get a glimpse behind that curtain, they can determine if there are security vulnerabilities to be found and quickly patch them. With proprietary software, you have to rely on a company to do bug/vulnerability testing and then wait for them to release patches. That wait time can be dangerous.

 

Cons of Custom Software

 

You are the support

There’s no way around this. With custom software, you don’t have a company to back up the solution. You created it, you fix it. This can be problematic for companies that are accustomed to the traditional method of purchasing software “off the rack” and turning to the company responsible for the software when something goes wrong. The only similar track you might have with custom software is if you hired an offshore or nearshore development firm to create the software for you. When something goes wrong, you might be able to look there for help.

That said, some custom software development companies provide Support & Maintenance Services for the projects they work on, so keep that in mind when choosing a partner to outsource development. 

Time investment

Unlike off-the-shelf software, when you create custom software, it’s not just a quick download away. The solution has to be designed, developed, bug tested, and deployed. That can take time. If you need a solution now, your only path to success might be off the shelf.

 

Off-the-Rack Software

Off-the-rack software (ORS) is created by companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and Apple. Let’s take a look at the pros of off-the-rack software.

 

Pros of ORS

 

Out of the box solutions

One of the best things about off-the-rack software is that they are “plug and play” out-of-the-box solutions. In other words, you purchase, download, and install. Out of the box, off-the-rack software should work as expected and can be deployed in minutes.

 

Support

Another important feature of off-the-shelf software is its support. When something goes wrong with this type of software, you have a company behind it, ready to help you with those issues. 

 

Cheaper solutions

Because you don’t have to pay developers to create the software, off the shelf can sometimes be a much cheaper solution. Yes, some software titles can be quite pricey, but the cost of creating a similar solution could mitigate your company doing it in-house.

 

Regular upgrades

Another positive aspect of off-the-shelf solutions is that the purchase price usually includes upgrades (to a point). This is important as security vulnerabilities are often found, and the patches for those issues are released in upgrades. Updates also include new features and performance improvements. 

 

Cons of ORS

 

Inflexibility

With off-the-shelf software, you get what you get. In other words, the software isn’t flexible. If you purchase an off-the-shelf solution, and you need it to do something it’s not designed to do, you’re probably out of luck. You might find the rare company willing to work with you (for a cost) to build in new features to a package, but that’s rare.

 

Bloatware and feature creep

Another issue with off-the-shelf software is that it’ll include features you don’t need (aka bloatware or feature creep). To make matters worse, sometimes those features actually get in the way of how you need the solution to work. 

 

Support costs and fallibility

Finally, off-the-shelf software doesn’t always come with free support. And given how prone such software is to failing you, that support could be a critical component moving forward. Granted, you at least have the option of purchasing support (if the software didn’t include it in the purchase price) and, in many cases, support can be world-class. Just make sure you understand what you’re getting into (if support is built-in or optional).

 

Conclusion

The decision is on you: Do you go with a custom software solution, or off the shelf software. Run through this list and check off the pros and cons that are most important to you and your company. If the pros outweigh the cons, you have your answer.

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