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Custom development vs off-the-shelf software: What is the main difference?


Custom development vs off-the-shelf software: What is the main difference?

Today, software packages can be classified into two main kinds. Custom software is designed and built according to the unique as well as specific requirements and preferences of a particular organization. Off-the-shelf software is not targeted at any specific company and is sold to several players in the market. The former is also referred to as generic software as its features, as well as functionality, are general and not specific. It generally contains a broad range of features and functionality. Some entities prefer custom development while others favor off-the-shelf software. Examples of off-the-shelf software are Microsoft Office Suite, Norton Antivirus, and Salesforce CRM. For your information financial organizations such as banks are more likely to use custom software because of the unique nature of their business and superior security levels.


Off-the-shelf software is sold to many entities in the market. As such they are cheaper than custom software. Custom development takes significant time, money, and effort. However, in the longer term, they generally yield better returns when benchmarked against generic software. Remember that if you opt for custom software your business secrets and important data remain private and secure.


It is imperative that you spend time and effort to understand the requirements of your organization. Brainstorm with your team members and create a quality document. Compare the merits of custom development with off-the-shelf software and make a decision that best meets your short-term and long-term business objectives. In the case of custom development, the software is aligned with your business’s unique requirements. Whereas in the case of off-the-shelf software, you may have to adjust your business to the software. This is not desirable or makes business sense.


Benefits of Custom Software

One Of a Kind

Using custom software gives organizations an advantage over their competitors. Your offering is unique which will make it stand out in the intensely competitive market. Competitors usually use generic software. The number of enterprises using custom software is usually less than the ones that buy and use generic software packages. Customers and clients usually enjoy using custom software because of its uniqueness as well as its different characteristics.


Have Full Ownership

Since you own the custom software, you can sell or rent it to whomever you want. This can generate income in a way that is not possible with off-the-shelf software. Only the generic software owner can sell or lease the off-the-shelf software. You have the full freedom to alter the custom software, delete certain features or add new features.


Superior Security
Usually, you will be the only user of the custom software. Hackers may not be even aware that your software exists. Lower visibility translates to a reduced probability of cyberattacks.


Ease of Scalability

If your business expands in the future, the custom software can be scaled up. On the other hand, if business declines you can scale down the software. This is because custom software is explicitly designed to be scalable. It is difficult or sometimes impossible to scale generic software. Then the software limitation can seriously impact your precious business.


User-Friendly Interface and Superior User Experience
Custom software has the user interface created as per the knowledge, likes, dislikes, and capabilities of your company staff members. Also, the user experience is targeted at a limited number of users. As such custom software is able to offer a stellar user experience. As a result, employee productivity is enhanced and more clients/customers are attracted to your business.


Superior Compatibility and Seamless Integration
Custom software developers are very much aware of the hardware and software existing in your organization. As such the software is designed to run on your platforms and integrate seamlessly with the existing systems. Generic software may not be compatible with your infrastructure and pose major integration challenges.


Drawbacks of Custom Software

Takes Significant Time, Money, and Effort to Develop
First, you have to decide what features and functionality you want in the software. Other parameters include the size of the package, which platforms it should be compatible with, the User Interface design as well as the speed of operations. You may not have the in-house capability to develop the custom software. Then you have to hire freelancers or outsourcing firms who possess the necessary expertise and experience. Finally, you have to conduct rigorous testing and check for usability. Your business may be halted till the custom software is designed, developed, tested, and deployed. Downtime can adversely affect your company’s reputation and result in the loss of both existing and potential customers.


Greater Responsibility
You have to depend on the team that developed the custom software both in the present and future. That is because they are the only ones having familiarity with the package. If a key member leaves, it affects the support and maintenance efforts. You have to shoulder the responsibility of altering the software if needed as per evolving and changing market trends. If there are bugs or cyberattacks you cannot delegate the responsibility to an external party. Support and maintenance are entirely your responsibility. You have to roll on updates and upgrades regularly. Also, you have to adapt the software to changing technological and functional trends.


Risk of Choosing the Wrong Provider
Generic software is generally dependable as they are developed by mature and established entities. The quality of custom software is unpredictable as it depends on the quality and expertise of the chosen development team. As such the quality of the custom software may be below par.


Benefits of Off-the-shelf Software

No Wastage of Time
Generic software is generally easy to install and use. So, there is no business downtime. You can purchase and install it and your business is up and running.

Suitable for Small Organizations
Custom software is usually costlier than most off-the-shelf software. The latter is more affordable to organizations with limited financial capabilities. Also, if you cannot wait and wish to enter the market immediately then off-the-shelf software is a better choice. For building custom software initially you have to understand the company’s requirements and then go on to build the product. If you cannot afford to purchase the generic software outright you have the option to choose the subscription model. In the latter, you can go for monthly, quarterly, or yearly plans.


Community Support
Off-the-shelf software is sold to several organizations. As such many entities have experience and knowledge of generic software. There will be forums where you can post your queries and challenges. There will likely be someone to help you out with your software issues.


Tried and Tested
When you choose to go for off-the-shelf software you are opting for a product that has been tested by many different entities. So, the risk of performance issues and software downtime is low.

Drawbacks of Off-the-shelf Software

Possible Need to Purchase Extra Hardware
The generic software may not be compatible with your existing hardware. So, you need to buy extra and/or different hardware. There is an additional cost to buy new hardware. Also, you need to allocate space for the new hardware. Real estate space has to be purchased or rented. This is usually a significant expense.


Higher Security Risk
Generic software has higher market visibility than custom software. Many copies may be circulating in the market. Potential hackers have relatively higher access to the software and will try to attack it. The former can easily get hold of a copy and exploit existing vulnerabilities. The risk is relatively lower in the case of custom development.


Competitors Use the Same Software
This is a very likely possibility. If you and your competitors use the same software there is less incentive for potential users to choose your product and/or service. You need to offer something different and/or better to garner greater market share. Otherwise, you are providing something which is already existing in the market.


You Pay for Unnecessary Features and Functionality
Generic software has many features. You may not need or want all of them. If certain features are missing then the software is useless to your organization. You may contact the generic software owner to add features or functionality that are required by your organization. However, they may be unwilling or unable to do so. It is not certain whether your needs are a priority to them. In custom development, you can quickly incorporate needed and desirable features.


Competing for Support
When you have a problem with your software you will approach the support center for help. However, remember that you are not their only client. The generic software provider may give priority to bigger clients or more severe issues. In custom development, you are the only and top priority for the support and maintenance department.


If the generic software provider ceases to exist or stops support for older generic software you are likely to be left in the lurch. Usually, in the case of custom development, there is a lifelong commitment.


If you want to be operating in the market as soon as possible off-the-shelf software should be your choice. Custom software is a better option if the nature of your business is extremely unique. If you think that your business size is likely to remain static or you have limited financial resources, off-the-shelf software will do the job. Note that investing in custom development will yield manifold returns in the long run. Both employees and users usually gravitate towards custom development. Countries such as India have quality and affordable firms specializing in custom development. Have an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) as well as SLA (Service Level Agreement) in place while hiring a reputed custom development entity.


About Us

Focaloid is a stellar software development products and services company catering to clients in the US & UK. We have the necessary expertise and experience in custom development. For your information, Focaloid has a team of talented and seasoned professionals with extensive expertise in custom development. Over time we have established a mature outsourcing model which is productive, efficient as well as effective. You can safely rely on us to deliver outstanding software solutions and services within stipulated deadlines. Contact us at the earliest to know how we can help you. We are committed to superior client satisfaction and mutual growth.


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