Bespoke or Off the Shelf Software: A Comparison

Bespoke or off the shelf software: depending on the depth of your knowledge about software and how to run it for your organisation or business, it may seem like an obvious choice because whereas off the shelf packages are run by millions of users, bespoke can be customised based on your individual needs.

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However, the reality is that there are advantages and disadvantages to both: and in this guide we take a look at the core differences.

The main differences between bespoke and off the shelf software

  • Build: The number one difference between the two formats is that off the shelf products are designed for a wide range of consumers with a standard design and a framework that is pre-produced. As such there is a risk that it might not cater for all your individual requirements. By contrast, bespoke software will effectively build the framework you require: one that is meant to internalise your current processes. As such, you won’t need to change processes and it should be fast and easy to familiarise yourself with how the system works. It will also be easier to fine tune it in the future to ensure a high level of performance is maintained.
  • Initial price: Generally speaking, off the shelf software is priced reasonably; whereas most bespoke software is relatively expensive to build. This is because the cost for the development of an off the shelf product is effectively split across numerous buyers and the volume of licences sold: whereas, customised, bespoke software is produced just for one consumer.
  • Updates: Generally, with off the shelf software you will need to pay for updates after an introductory period. Frustratingly, some off the shelf products only offer updates for a limited period: meaning that the software you purchase can quickly become obsolete. However, customised software will update based on the budget and requirements of the company.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of off-the-shelf software?

Let’s summarise the advantages and disadvantages of off-the-shelf offers:

  • The initial price should be relatively cheap as costs are spread across a wider array of users.
  • The software can potentially be very sophisticated because of the resources that are put into its development.
  • In most cases off the shelf software is highly complex and contains sections that you may never use. It is estimated, for example, that the average Microsoft Word user, makes use of just 10 per cent of its facilities. Effectively the software tries to offer a little something for everyone: but at the same time it may compromise on some of the particular areas of focus that your business needs.
  • Adjustments may be needed: you may have to alter the way that you work in order to fit in with the software’s capabilities. You may also need to take time to learn how to use the software properly.
  • With off the shelf software, you won’t have an advantage over your competitors as they could buy exactly the same system.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke software?

Let’s summarise the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke offers:

  • With bespoke software, the offer is designed to your individual needs: based on your company’s budget and requirements.
  • Each bespoke product is written to meet the individual client’s requirements. It is tailored to fit with what the business needs and can help develop your products as it is much more flexible and can be changed and modified based on how your business practises change.
  • Generally speaking, bespoke offers should be easier to use because they are designed to work in the way that you want them to work. You will be in control as you can make changes to suit your company and this should lead to fewer errors and the need for less supervision. Productivity should also increase because it is possible to automate repetitive tasks.
  • Bespoke software could potentially offer you a competitive advantage. If you are fortunate to boast good developers then they can make suggestions to improve your service and open up alternatives, while acting as an ongoing source of information and advice relating to IT.
  • While upfront costs are more expensive, with bespoke software there are no licensing costs and updates can be supplied without further costs. The software should not become obsolete over time as it can constantly be developed.
  • There is a risk with bespoke software that your business can be exposed if you do not have the source code. You will also be continually dependent on your developers – so to avoid this problem you should make sure that the developer provides you with the source code.
  • There is also a risk that the software could be unstable if it has not been developed to the best possible professional standards. Although there are similar risks with packaged software, the risks are a little higher with bespoke software: making it essential to choose a developer who meets best practice standards.

So which option is right for your business?

You should think carefully about your individual business requirements before making a choice: you will need software that helps you achieve maximum results.

Bespoke applications can offer huge commercial and business benefits, giving you a competitive advantage: but it will usually be necessary to pay more for this solution than you would with an off the shelf product. Still, if you find a professional with best practice standards who can develop the software and your business while also providing updates then a bespoke solution could be much more cost efficient.

Finally, remember that there are hybrid options too: for example, using an off the shelf product to service 80 per cent of your requirements while relying on a bespoke option for the remaining 20 per cent. This may be done by a third party as long as the original software is open source.

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