Bespoke Software Development vs Off The Shelf

The choice between bespoke software development and purchasing off-the-shelf software is a difficult one for companies. Every company is different and distinct from every other company, which means that no two companies will operate in the same way, have the same customers, or the same strategy and vision for the future. These differences allow companies to gain a competitive advantage over other companies, but it comes at a price.


Off-the-shelf software

Off-the-shelf software is usually significantly cheaper than bespoke software. Think of all the billions that Microsoft spent on Microsoft office so that their customers could buy it for £7.99 per month! No company would seriously consider building its own word processor software, when it could use Microsoft Office (or a competing product), for such a low price.

Another common example that we come across is a company wishing to purchase an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system to run their whole business. These systems are off-the-shelf and very expensive. Due to the high licensing and implementation costs, companies will sometimes approach us to build them a custom ERP system. Usually the economics do not change. It is still a lot cheaper to license an off-the-shelf ERP system than build your own! Again, think of the billions of Euro that SAP spent developing their ERP system.


Bespoke software solutions

However, some companies still go down the bespoke route. For example, we have built a completely web-based bespoke project tracking system for Wolseley plc. This is because no off-the-shelf system currently exists to provide the feature set that they were looking for. In this case, necessity was the mother of innovation; a very common reason for building bespoke software solutions. The business process that you wish to support is so peculiar to your own company that no off-the-shelf software can provide it.

The evidence is not always so clear cut. Sometimes the off-the-shelf software provides 80% of the functionality that you are looking for. This creates a dilemma. Do you go bespoke and pay a much larger price for 100% or live with only 80% of your desired features? The key to answering this question is in understanding your business strategy.

If the remaining 20% is for convenience rather than being strategically important to your business, then there is a good chance that you can live with an 80% match. Under these circumstances, you could manage the remaining 20% using a collection of spreadsheets. Alternatively, you could consider enhancing your system with some bespoke software. When IMI implemented the Tacton Configure-Price-Quote software, they needed to provide a method for customers to accept sales proposals online in a specific manner that Tacton did not support. We were able to provide the web-based software to bridge the gap.


Systems integration

Another area in which bespoke software can help bridge the gap between 80% and 100% is via systems integration. Rather than build a completely bespoke solution that provides 100% of the solution, it may be that a carefully integrated set of off-the-shelf software can provide 100%. In the case of IMI Precision Engineering, we have leveraged cloud technology and integrated many key systems (JD Edwards, Pardot, Kiss Metrics, Tacton, Mandrill etc) to provide a complete digital platform for the business.

In the case of customer-facing software such as mobile Apps, there are good marketing reasons to go for bespoke software. Most App Stores (such as Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store) do not permit duplicate Apps or Apps that are substantially equivalent to existing Apps. This means that you can’t simply publish off-the-shelf software under your own company’s name. In this case, bespoke software is required to meeting App Store guidelines. For example, the mobile App that we built for AuthenticateIS is completely bespoke and provides its customers with a unique experience.

In summary, off-the-shelf software is great when you require a low-cost, reasonably standard piece of software to solve a standard problem (off-the-shelf solutions for off-the-shelf problems). However, bespoke software development is more suited where a higher level of investment is available for a more complex problem. A combination of an off-the-shelf core systems approach coupled with bespoke enhancements or integrations is also a very practical, balanced approach.

If you would like to contact McKenna Consultations in relation to bespoke software solutions, including the integration of systems, then please get in touch via our online enquiry form.

Nick McKenna
Since 2004, Nick McKenna, BSc, MBCS Biography has been the CEO of McKenna Consultants. McKenna Consultants is a bespoke software development based in North Yorkshire, specialising in Cloud development, mobile App development, progressive web App development, systems integration and the Internet of Things development. Nick also holds a First Class Degree in Computer Science (BSc) and wrote his first computer program at the age of nine, on a BBC Micro Model B computer. For the last 21 years, Nick has been a professional computer programmer and software architecture. Nick’s technical expertise includes; Net Core, C#, Microsoft Azure, Asp.Net, RESTful web services, eProcurement, Swift, iOS mobile development, Java, Android mobile development, C++, Internet Of Things and more. In addition, Nick is experienced in Agile coaching, training and consultancy, applying modern Agile management techniques to marketing and running McKenna Consultants, as well as the development of software for clients. Nick is a Certified Enterprise Coach (Scrum Alliance), SAFe Program Consultant (SAI), Certified LeSS Practitioner (LeSS) and Certified Scrum@Scale Practitioner. Outside the office, Nick is a professional scuba diver and he holds the rank of Black Belt 5th Dan in Karate.