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Why use custom software?

Most software that you use will be 'off the shelf' packages and the same application will typically be run by thousands or even millions of users. The other type of software that you may use is bespoke software which has been custom developed for your particular organisation.

There are various advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

Advantages of Packaged Software

  • The software tends to be relatively cheap as the cost of development can be spread over a large number of users.
  • The software can be very sophisticated (eg Excel of Word) as the revenues from a very large numbers of users means that a lot of resources can be applied to it's development.

Drawbacks of Packaged Software

  • The software can be highly complex and will usually include large sections that you will never use (the average Word user is reputed to only use about 10% of the available facilities).
  • It tends to be a compromise. By it's nature it is designed for many different types of users, each of whom will have different requirements.
  • As the software tends to be large and complicated it may take a long time to learn properly (some of the most asked for additions to later versions of Word were ones that already existed in the previous version - it was just that the users did not know that they existed because the application was so big).
  • You may have to alter the way that you work in order to fit in with the way that the software has been designed.
  • There will probably be operations that you require that you simply cannot do with the software.
  • As one small voice amongst many others your requests will not carry much weight.
  • If you have problems you are usually at the mercy of a large and faceless organisation who may not be quite as concerned as you are if you have a major problem that absolutely MUST be fixed before tomorrow morning!
  • As the same system can be bought by your competitors it is very difficult to gain any competitive advantage from it's use.

Advantages of Bespoke Software

  • It has been specifically designed for your particular requirements and can be tailored to fit in exactly with the way that your business or organisation wishes to operate.
  • It can be customised to interface with other software that you operate with the potential to provide you with a fully integrated IT infrastructure across your whole organisation.
  • The software can be tuned to your specific needs thus providing you with performance benefits that are just not feasible with packaged software.
  • Users will usually find it easier and more intuitive to use as it should not contain unnecessary or superfluous facilities and should operate in the way that they are used to working
  • It can incorporate business processes that are specific to you and which do not exist in any packaged solution.
  • It is much more flexible than packaged software and can be modified and changed over time as your requirements and business practices change.
  • You will (usually) receive much better support and can in many cases talk directly to the developers concerned.
  • If you are lucky and find a good developer then they can significantly add value to your company by suggesting alternatives, improvements and by acting as a source of IT advice and information.
  • The use of professionally developed bespoke software applications can give you a significant business advantage over your competition.

Drawbacks of Bespoke Software

  • If you do not have the source code you are dangerously exposed and are wholly dependent upon the developers continuing existence and good will. To avoid this problem make sure you choose a developer who provides you with the source code.
  • If the software is not developed to professional Best Practice standards it may be unstable, unreliable and full of bugs (but then again so is some packaged software!). Selecting a developer who works to Best Practice should counteract this.
  • The investment required will usually be much higher than with packaged software. This is usually the biggest reason for not going down the custom route - you need to undertake a business justification excercise and compare the costs against the expected benefits and commercial advantages.
  • An unacceptable proportion of developers are either incompetent, unprofessional or are 'cowboys' and it can be difficult to sort out the good guys from the bad (the most reliable method is to take up references and talk to some of their recent clients).

Conclusions

Having a bespoke application developed for you can potentially provide you with major business and commercial benefits and allow you to gain significant competitive advantage. However you have to expect to pay more for it than for a packaged solution and it is also essential that you use a professional developer who works to Best Practice standards and who is happy to provide you with the source code to your application.