It is impossible to imagine a business without the use of software systems. From simple CRM software to complex niche-specific software solutions, businesses rely on applications in almost all aspects of their operations. As businesses grow and evolve, they often come face to face with the age-old dilemma of custom software development vs. off-the-shelf software. This is a decision business owners have to make: whether to continue using commercially available software or invest in the development of custom software for their business.

Many businesses struggle with reaching a clear decision because there are many important factors to consider such as the cost of custom software development services, the long-term goal of the business, the expected revenue and growth of the business, etc. If you are a business facing a similar dilemma, and you need to find out the best type of software solution for your business, then this is the right guide for you. Let’s begin by understanding the difference between custom software development and off-the-shelf software solutions.

What is Custom Software Application Development?

Custom software development is also known as bespoke software development. It is the process of building a software system from scratch as per a defined set of requirements of a business organization-specific or group of users. It results in a software product that is tailored as per a precise list of requirements to address niche-specific needs of the users that are not met by commercially available software.

There are many ways to develop a custom software application such as in-house development, outsourcing to offshore software development services providers, freelance software developers, etc. However, no matter who the developing party is, the intellectual rights of the custom software are always owned by you.

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Process of Custom Software Development

The process of developing custom software includes 6 main steps. This process is also known as the software development life cycle (SDLC), where the development team begins with an idea and transform it into a working piece of software. The process of custom software development consists of the following steps:

  1. Requirement Gathering: This is the initial stage of your collaboration with the software development services company or your development team in case of in-house development. You define your requirements, intent, and specifications mutually to set a clear plan for the later stages of development.
  2. Design: This is the stage where you work out the design of your software application. The design professionals create mockups, wireframes and sketches to visualize what the software will look and feel like once it is complete.
  3. Development: This is the stage where software developers write the code of your application and it transforms from an idea on paper to a functional software system.
  4. Testing: Testing is important to assure the quality of the software application. Software is tested thoroughly during the development phase and after its completion to guarantee that the developed software meets the requirements and quality standards.
  5. Deployment: Once the software application is developed and tested thoroughly it is deployed to be used by the intended users. Whether it is an app that is to be launched on the App Store or an internally hosted software application, the development team hands it over to you at this stage and the software is ready to use.
  6. App Maintenance and Support: This is not a part of custom software application development services, but many software companies provide services to fix bugs and maintain performance after the software is deployed.

Pros and Cons of Bespoke Software Development

The primary benefit of custom software development is that it is tailored to meet the exact requirements of a business. Secondly, when off-the-shelf software falls short in catering to your business needs, it might be wise to develop a custom software solution that meets your unique requirements and exclusively belongs to you. Software ownership means that you can maintain the software as long as you require without worrying about any limitations and license fees. Lastly, another major benefit of custom software development is that businesses can decide to offer their custom software as a SaaS product to others to earn additional revenue.

Just like everything else, custom software development has its drawbacks. To begin with, it is expensive. Software development services can cost thousands of dollars and it requires substantial investments. The development process is also time taking. It can take a few months to develop a custom software application which means businesses can not have a solution ready right away.

What is Off-the-Shelf Software?

Off-the-shelf software is also known as commercially available software. It refers to the range of software products that are readily available to use in the market. Some off-the-shelf software are free to use whereas some charge a monthly or annual license fee. Unlike, custom software development, these software solutions are not developed according to a specific set of requirements. Instead, they are intended for general use by a large number of people.

Some common examples of off-the-shelf software include Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, SAP, Oracle, etc. Basically, all the readily available software solutions that are open to access for the general population.

Pros and Cons of Off-the-Shelf Software

Unlike custom software, off-the-shelf software is ready to use instantly. It is easy to install and use. You can sign up, select your plan, pay, and install to start using the software. Off-the-shelf software products are also reliable because they are thoroughly tested before launching in the market. You can expect a consistent and trouble-free experience while using them. However, if you run into issues you can find support, solutions, and advice from the user community.

However, a major drawback of off-the-shelf software that they are intended for general use. You can think of them as a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Therefore, you might not find a software product that caters to your exact requirements.

Build or Buy: Custom Software Development Services vs. Off-the-Shelf Software

If you are a business debating to stick with off the shelf software or invest in custom software application development services, the aforementioned pros and cons are something to consider. Both have their drawbacks, but the best solution for you depends on your business strategy, growth potential and long-term goals.

If your requirements are unique and niche-specific and are not being catered by the commercially available software solutions, then your only choice might be to seek software development services to create your own software application. Similarly, if you have a growing business with changing needs, then it is worth considering developing custom software so that it can adapt to your changing requirements.