When you’re running a business, and you’re looking for a software solution, you have two general options as far as how to approach this need. The first is to go with an off-the-shelf, already-built solution, and the second is a custom software option. There’s a lot to consider and think about when it comes to investing in custom software, including the pros and cons of this option.
There are the more obvious things to think about, such as price, and then more subtle elements as well. For example, according to ActiveState’s Dana Crane, you could face a legal roadblock if you don’t follow the rules of open source licensing. This can slow your development project down, although it can be avoided if you work with a company that understands open source licensing ramifications.
Aside from that, the following are some other things to know about a custom software development project.
The Software Development Life Cycle
The timeline for developing custom software can vary but generally has anywhere from five to seven phases. These include planning and requirements, design and architecture, development and coding, implementation, testing and maintenance, and production. A project can take anywhere from four to twelve months on average, but the vast majority of projects do go over their estimated timeline.
The fact that projects often take longer than anticipated can be one of the major downsides of custom development, although the benefits can outweigh the downsides.
Along with the general scope of the project, some of the factors that can play a role in the timeline include security features, APIs, and needed external libraries.
The cost of a custom software solution can vary significantly, often ranging between $50,000 to $250,000. Depending on how you look at it, the price can be a pro or a con of a custom development project. If you do the math, and it’s going to be well worth the investment, it can help guide your decision-making.
While off-the-shelf software might have a lower upfront cost, you have to think about additional and ongoing costs, including upgrade costs, licensing fees, and more.
Plus, with off-the-shelf software, you may have to invest in additional hardware to make it work for your business, whereas with a custom project, you can have it built around your existing hardware and capabilities.
So, the two biggest cons of a custom software solution are usually the time it takes and the price. Beyond that, there is a pretty long list of pros.
The Pros of Custom Software
There are many pros of custom software, including the ones detailed below:
- A business has complete control over the final product. They can create the list of features they want, and if necessary, add them as they go. They get control over the updates that need to occur, and the business can work with their development team whenever they have new or changing needs. On the other hand, if you choose an off-the-shelf solution, you’re subjected to updates and changes even when you might not want or need them. An update could mean changes that then leave you without the features you initially needed.
- You can gain a competitive advantage if you’re able to have custom software developed that meets a unique or very specific need in your industry. If your competitors are still using pre-made solutions, custom software is a viable way to get ahead. When you develop software, you can create a list of the very specific, very real and day-to-day issues your employees are facing in different processes, and then use them as a guide for building the new software.
- Custom software is more secure in almost all cases than regular software. When there’s an issue that leaves off-the-shelf software vulnerable to a hack, then this information spreads quickly. Along with the fact that custom software companies pay specific attention to security, custom software is also more secure because of the simple fact that hackers aren’t as likely to want to target it as they would be something they could broadly target.
Finally, while a custom software project has a lot of business advantages, there are things to consider beforehand. First, you have to be realistic in your expectations of cost and budget. It’s not worth it to create custom software that doesn’t need to be highly specific. If there are general solutions that exist and you have a general need, it’s probably best to go with off-the-shelf. You should also know what to expect in case there are changes in the plan along the way or something unexpected hits your project.