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October 16, 2019

Business Software Solutions – Bespoke Software Versus Off-the-Shelf Packages

We are regularly approached by SMEs searching for business software solutions that will help them to eliminate paper-based processes, cumbersome spreadsheets and other admin. With so many potential software options available it’s difficult to know where to start. That’s why we decided to put together the following guide as a starting point for choosing the optimal business software solution for your needs.

To be clear, let’s explain what we mean by a business software solution. Essentially this can be any piece of software used by the organisation to carry out a business function. However, to avoid duplication of effort and multiple data entry points, most businesses prefer to use one, or at least as few separate software packages as possible, to streamline their processes. There may be some instances where different software packages such as an accounts package or a customer relationship management tool from different software providers are used in isolation or linked together (see our previous blog regarding systems integration). Most types of business software solution fall into one of three main categories, each with its own pros and cons:

Off-the-Shelf Software

Off-the-shelf-software is exactly what it says on the tin! Software which is pre-developed and readily available to any business that wants to purchase it.

Advantages:

Price Off-the-shelf software solutions are almost always cheaper than those which are tailor-made, as the development costs are split between multiple companies purchasing the software

Low training costs – Well known software packages may be recognised by staff who have used them in previous employment and thus require little training to bring them up to speed

Timing – Off-the-shelf-software can be sourced and implemented very quickly

Disadvantages:

One size fits allOff-the-shelf software solutions have limitations with regards how much they can be customised to the needs of a particular business. This means they may not be able to achieve all of the objectives which led you to seek a solution at the outset.

Multiple Packages – It is unlikely that a single off-the-shelf software solution will be able to manage all processes within your business. This means that you could end up with several separate packages in different areas of the business which do not link into each other.

Delayed Bug Fixes – Virtually all new software will contain bugs. Unfortunately, if you are using off-the-shelf software you have no direct control over how quickly the developer prioritises fixes for bugs which directly affect the use of the product by your business.

Bespoke Software Solutions

Commissioning a bespoke business software solution, usually via an outsourced software development company, provides an opportunity to create a system which is tailored specifically to the needs of your business.

Advantages:

Customisation – Providing your bespoke business software solution has been built to a clearly defined brief, the initial upfront development costs should be outweighed by the efficiency benefits and possible competitive advantages brought about by streamlining of processes and eliminating duplicate data entry. The new software should include all of your desired features whilst avoiding those that may be contained within off-the-shelf solutions and never utilised.

Adaptability – It is usually possible to make changes to your bespoke software as the business grows or its needs change for example when new legislation is passed.

Disadvantages:

Initial upfront costsHaving a custom software solution built on your behalf can initially seem like an expensive route. Not only is there a hefty amount of development time required to produce the software to your brief, but time will also be required from your team to provide a business needs analysis, specification and testing of the software solution as it progresses.

Reliance on your developer – Careful selection of a suitable software developer is crucial. They must be able to fully understand your requirements, deliver to time and on budget to ensure the project stays on track. What’s more any bugs or initial glitches (there will always be some in new software) will be peculiar to your system, so you must have confidence that your development partner will rectify them quickly once discovered. Be sure to be diligent; check how long they have been in business and ask for some references to take up.

Training costs – The business software solution will be bespoke to your business and thus fit snugly around your processes. However, this in turn means that any new employees will have to be trained to use it, as they will not have experienced the same package elsewhere.

Hybrid Business Software Solutions

These typically allow you to reap some of the advantages from both off-the-shelf software and bespoke software solutions. Not all elements of the business software are bespoke to your business in a hybrid solution hence the cost is less than a bespoke system. Often core processes which remain similar across most businesses are standardised with the option to add bespoke functionality where required at a limited additional cost. In other scenarios standard off-the-shelf packages are used in different company departments with bespoke integrations created to avoid multiple data entry points and inefficiencies. The flexibility and relative cost effectiveness of hybrid solutions make them attractive for growing SMEs who are proactively looking to refine their existing systems to cope with higher volumes of throughput without tying up all of their cash.

At LBT, our experienced team has been providing IT consultancy for decades, helping clients to choose business software solutions that work for them. We are familiar with the latest off-the-shelf packages including cloud-based software and have the development capability in-house to produce bespoke software solutions. We are perfectly positioned to provide hybrid software solutions in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and London to growing SMEs. These are often based around our own Associate software package which can be fully customised using bespoke extensions developed in-house. For more information please call 01763 275 400 or book your free initial consultation by clicking here.