By: Dave Devitt on November 10th, 2017
Using Custom Software Development to Manage Business Growth
No two companies are alike, which means that it's impossible for any one piece of software to meet the needs of every organization. What's more, businesses must inevitably change, wanting different things as they grow, scale, mature, and adapt to different conditions in the market and industry.
For these reasons, it's essential that you select the software that best fits your circumstances, requirements, and goals at this point in time. Many companies choose to manage their business growth by partnering with a software development firm to create a custom solution tailor-made to their specific needs.
Why Should You Use Custom Software?
Businesses go with custom software for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important reasons is the increased control that they have over their IT setup. Being able to edit the software's source code (or work with someone who can do it for them) means that you can alter it to correspond with your own purposes and objectives.
One of the biggest pain points with off-the-shelf software is the impression that you've been harnessed to a third-party license or program that may or may not align with your own plans. Custom software, on the other hand, offers exactly the opposite situation: letting your business goals lead the development process, rather than feeling like it's the other way around.
Another major benefit that custom software offers is the possibility of business process automation, which can both support and enhance existing manual processes as well as replacing them entirely. Automating your manual processes streamlines them and makes them less prone to errors by reducing human influence in your workflow.
Misconceptions About Custom Software Development
For a variety of reasons, many businesses don't even consider the possibility of using custom software—which means that they miss out on a lot of benefits. Here's just a few of the most common myths.
- You can't afford custom software. Depending on the goal and scope of your project, custom software can easily be within your budget. Many custom software solutions are low-hanging fruit that aren't expensive to address, but are still out of reach for businesses without a dedicated development team. What's more, good custom software has a high return on investment. Even minor custom software projects can save companies hours and days of wasted time in the long run, giving you a lot of bang for your buck.
- Custom software is complicated. The term "custom software" can apply to everything from tiny browser plugins to in-depth rewrites of massive applications. By making minor tweaks that significantly ease pain points, even small custom software projects can still be highly useful.
- Custom software takes too long to develop. Similarly, the length of time of a custom software project is largely dependent on its scope. Smaller projects require less money, less time to reach production, and a faster return on investment.
- Custom software isn't worth it. While the definition of "worth it" varies between people and organizations, custom software can substantially improve and quicken business processes, saving your employees valuable time, money, and effort. For example, by automating your report creation process, your managers and executives can have reports waiting for them in their inboxes every morning. Instead of having to remember to generate the report and wait for the results, they simply see it there, every day—and that ease and reliability is worth a lot.
Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Software
With the misconceptions about custom software debunked, you can move on to examining whether custom software really offers you a competitive advantage versus its off-the-shelf counterparts. When doing the comparison, it's helpful to look at your choices through a number of different lenses, including:
- Licensing and ownership: When you work with a custom software developer, you're given the rights to use and change the product and/or code as you see fit. On the other hand, you're given no such guarantees with off-the-shelf software: it may be open source or proprietary, or have a number of different licenses on it that restrict your ability to use it.
- Depreciation: Because you own the code base of your custom software solution, it won't go bad if the developer goes out of business. You can still edit the code yourself or work with another development shop. However, off-the-shelf software is usually closed source, which probably means that its utility will degrade rapidly if the developer shuts down or decides to stop supporting it.
- Dependency: On a related note, custom software makes you much less dependent on the developer for your business needs. If you depend on an off-the-shelf software application for a particular feature or you structure your business workflows around the software, you could face an unpleasant surprise when the software changes.
- Flexibility: Open source code is a living document that you can modify and enhance as you believe best fits your organization. Instead of waiting for the developer to release patches or bug fixes, you can resolve them yourself proactively. The enhancements you can make to an off-the-shelf solution, on the other hand, are fairly limited.
- Security: The phrase "security through obscurity" is highly relevant when it comes to custom software. Because it's not as well known as off-the-shelf software, custom software is usually more secure than the big-budget alternatives. There's also the argument that open source software is more secure in general because security flaws can be visible to anyone who looks at the code base.
- Features: Companies with unique business needs may not even be able to satisfy these requirements with off-the-shelf software.
- Cost: Business licenses for off-the-shelf software are often subscription-based, which could make custom software the cheaper option right off the bat, helping you see an immediate return on investment.
Client War Stories
In our previous blog post about business process automation, we wrote about one of our clients who saved 7.5 hours of printing time every day just by using a custom word processing program. This is just one of the many examples of businesses that have made themselves more efficient and cut costs by switching to custom software.
A second client requested that we build a inventory management system, taking advantage of this customization to significantly shorten their product replacement process. Before the new solution, users who sent a restocking order out to a vendor had to go through five different steps, which we were able to shorten to two clicks: one to view the page and another to submit. Just by reducing the number of clicks, the client could save around 20 minutes of time per person per week.
By freeing your employees from having to perform these low-level tasks, you can improve your productivity and realize significant time savings in the long run. For example, we wrote a program for another client that generates PDFs and automatically sends them to a printer, saving users from having to find and print the PDF themselves.
Contrary to popular belief, custom software can fit a variety of situations, budgets, and timelines. The decision between custom and off-the-shelf software is one that can significantly improve your productivity and have a significant impact on your business even years down the road, which means that it's important to choose carefully and consider all your options.