Why Off-the-Shelf Software Might Be the Best Route to Take

It’s the age-old question in business: “Build or buy?” Companies often wrangle with whether to buy a ready-made solution – whether it be equipment, buildings, or even software – that meets most of the needs of the business, or build a new solution from scratch that is fully customized for their needs. When evaluating whether to build or buy new software for your business, there are several key considerations that can help you be sure about the decision.

As a general rule, we recommend using pre-built off-the-shelf software if you can. Oftentimes, off-the-shelf software is a good place to start because a significant portion of desired functionality is already there at a lower initial cost. There may be some functionality that is lacking, and you would have to decide if having that missing functionality is worth the cost of building a new solution yourself. Some off-the-shelf software solutions can be customized to an extent to provide nearly all of your desired functionality, at an additional cost of course.

Custom software can be expensive to develop, while off-the-shelf software is usually much less costly. A key question to ask yourself is if the pain of your need for software is greater than the expense to offset that pain.  If not, then off-the-shelf software could be a great solution.

For new entrants into an industry, or established companies testing new markets, a great advantage of off-the-shelf software is the ability to learn the industry and pain points at a fraction of the cost of custom solutions, reducing risk. This strategy also gives companies an opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts of competitors and their offerings, providing the data needed to build custom software in future product iterations that can solve these pain points and differentiate your solution.

A great example of this is found in one of our clients who was using a pre-built solution for its core business intelligence product for the energy industry. At first, the solution allowed the company to get up and running with its new offering fast. Over time, the company and its clients found the pre-built module to be slow, with a dated user interface that detracted from the user’s experience. Our client learned from this and engaged us to build a custom solution that met its need for speed and a better user experience.

Another key question to ask is whether it makes sense to adapt your business model to fit off-the-shelf software. One drawback to off-the-shelf software is that out-of-the-box features and functions may not fit your operating model and require you to adjust your product offering and operations to make it work. The generic nature of off-the-shelf software also means that your competitors have the same access to the same software, leaving your operations and offerings potentially undifferentiated from the other guys. With a custom solution, you can differentiate against your competition by creating a solution no one else has.

The bottom line… don’t use custom software unless you can’t get what you need from off-the-shelf solutions. Once you begin using off-the-shelf software, you may over time realize its limitations and decide that a fully custom solution would help alleviate the pains of your current system. When you get frustrated with your existing software, that’s where B3 can help you build the right solution for your business. With our hybrid custom development model, we’re able to build software up to 500% faster than traditional custom development, at a fraction of the cost – many times as low as 20% of the cost of other custom solutions. So, when you’re ready to talk custom, let us know. We’d love to help.

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