Get started
Get started

Business Value

  • 24 months faster delivery
  • £2.5 million saved in development cost
  • Efficient working process
Book a demo

Investments in software are at an all-time high, as businesses continue to place digital transformation at the centre of their go-to market strategies and growth ambitions.  

Whether for process automation, data analytics or otherwise, organisations now have a seemingly endless supermarket of solutions available to them to suit every use case. Each of these available solutions – whether coming off-the-shelf or created bespoke – can offer something slightly different, whether it’s features, functionality, capabilities, user experience, hosting and infrastructure requirements, support and, of course, cost. 

Given the marketplace of competing products, vendors and developers, navigating the medley can be daunting – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by options. However, the initial challenge can be made more palatable from the start by first deciding whether to ‘build or buy’.

In this blog, we’ll weigh up the key differences between building custom software that’s developed for a specific user or organisation, and purchasing ready-made off-the-shelf software packages that are developed for a mass market. 

Custom made software vs off the shelf

Before we get into detail on the key differences between custom made software and off-the-shelf software, let’s weigh up the pros and cons of each. 

Pros of custom software

  • It’s built for your unique challenges and (in theory!) should provide the perfect solution. 
  • It can meet every requirement you have outlined without compromise. 
  • It can be modified, updated and scaled as requirements and technology evolves. 
  • It is unique to and owned by your business and therefore can be a considerable competitive advantage.

Cons of custom software

  • It will take a big upfront investment. You’re not buying a product, you’re investing in a process comprising research, development and maintenance.
  • It is rarely a good choice for a ‘quick fix’. Developing a custom solution can take several months or longer. 
  • It can lead to over-reliance on a developer. One to one support from a software development team can be hugely beneficial, but too much reliance on a partnership can cause inconvenience later. 

Pros of off-the-shelf software

  • It is designed to be set up quickly (although customisation and compatibility issues can add time to deployment). 
  • It is mass produced and therefore upfront costs are low. Instead costs are most often broken down into monthly subscriptions. 
  • You’ll benefit from community forums, user reviews and feedback, both in making a purchase decision and in navigating the software.
  • You may be able to view demos, test the software or use free trials before committing. 

Cons of off-the-shelf software

  • You’ll likely need to make your business work around the software to a degree, or under-utilise certain features and functionality. This can present hidden costs. 
  • The ability to modify the software will be controlled by the vendor. If business requirements change significantly, you could be inconvenienced. 
  • You may face compatibility issues between the software and other products, systems or devices which restrict usage. 
  • The software package is not unique to you. Your competitors have access to the same advantages. 

Ok, we’ve looked at the high-level pros and cons of choosing between custom software and off-the-shelf, so let’s explore some of the benefits of each in a bit more detail. 

Custom made software

Custom or bespoke software is designed and developed for an individual user or organisation, and therefore requires a process of analysing requirements, designing, coding, deployment, testing and maintenance and support. This development process requires expertise and a broad range of skill sets, from business analysts, UX designers and programmers and because the solution is created from scratch, the entire process from concept to delivery can take many months. 

Custom made software therefore tends to carry a larger upfront cost to a customer than its off-the-shelf counterparts which tend to charge by subscription, but can create a better long-term return on investment with the software serving the exact needs of the company, and providing a unique competitive advantage. 

Key advantages of custom software stem from the familiarity that the developer has with the client’s software, company, objectives and requirements. Software is not only delivered in-line with the client’s requirements, but can be adapted and scaled as requirements change or shift, while ongoing maintenance and support can ensure software remains up to date.

Off-the-shelf software

Off-the-shelf software refers to packaged software applications that are mass-produced, widely accessible and generally ready for instant deployment. Applications will be designed to accomplish tasks that are universal to its target customers, such as general accounting software, antivirus tools, enterprise resource planning or custom relationship management. 

Key advantages of off-the-shelf software are that it’s ready to go ‘out of the box’ and has low upfront costs, with users most often paying for their particular package monthly on a flexible subscription basis. 

Regular updates and maintenance are handled by the vendor so customers can focus on using software. Because the software has multiple users, it’s well-documented, certified and compliant, and most vendors will provide clear instructions and tutorials for use. Meanwhile, user communities can help field support requests, provide reviews and recommendations. 

Off-the-shelf software can be configurable and customisable to an extent as determined by the vendor. Rather than being limited by functionality, however, customers most often find they are under-utilising the full suite of available features and, therefore, not maximising their return. 

Final thoughts

Software investments are vital for any business, but no organisation should rush towards a solution in such a rich and varied marketplace. However, understanding the fundamental differences between off-the-shelf and custom software can be a good starting point to guide your decision. 

For those looking for the benefits of both off-the-shelf and custom solutions, no code platforms like Intelastel enable businesses to create their own bespoke applications without any upfront investment. From task trackers, Sales CRMs, help desk solutions and more, start building applications for your business at no cost, and with absolutely no coding experience.

Share this

Subscribe to our mailing list

Insights direct to your inbox. No spam. We value your privacy.*