Off the Shelf vs. Custom Developed Software


As a small business owner, you’re continually trying to improve processes, boost productivity and save money. One way you may consider doing so is by purchasing off the shelf software rather than investing in a custom software solution. But is a off the shelf software best for your business or is a custom application the way to go? It can be a tricky question to answer, but we’re here to help.

We’ll highlight the pros and cons of both solutions, and provide you with the information you need to know to determine which platform is the best fit for your business.

Benefits and Drawbacks of an Off the Shelf Product

A commercial off the shelf (COTS) product has a number of benefits as well as a few major drawbacks. Its most appealing feature is price. An off the shelf product offers bootstrapped business owners and budget tight startups the advantage of a low initial investment. In fact, when compared to a custom solution, a COTS product offers substantial money savings.

Sometimes you’ll have the option of trying the product for free for a limited time to be sure that it will work with your business and often you’ll have the benefit of a money back guarantee if you purchase the software and you aren’t satisfied.

An off the shelf product is also quick to deploy when compared to a custom solution, and gives you access to a user community. Upgrades are generally provided at a reduced cost, and assuming you select a quality product, you’ll enjoy strong customer support. Best yet, if it’s a web based product, you won’t have the hassle of installing any hardware or software.

Although a COTS product is budget friendly, implements quickly and backed by customer support, it does have a few potentially major shortcomings. Off the shelf products are designed to satisfy the basic needs of many different companies across a variety of industries. That means the unique needs of your business might not be met. It also means you may be paying for (and frustrated by) features that your business doesn’t need. Additionally, an off the shelf product may work for your business today, but it can’t be easily modified and isn’t designed to accommodate future needs.

When considering the purchase of a pre-made solution, remember that the software should work well with your business model and complement or enhance employee work flow. It should help your employees work smarter, not make them work harder. If you find that your business must make adaptations to conform to the software, it’s not the correct solution.

Pros and Cons of a Custom Built Solution

You might be lucky and discover an off the shelf product that suits the needs of your business perfectly. It’s possible, but not probable. So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a custom built software solution.

As you’d expect you’ll pay substantially more for a custom designed solution, but you’ll most likely get more value from it. Assuming it is properly designed, a custom solution should completely fulfill the needs of your business and even be built to support future demands. In short, a custom application is built to your exact requirements and as an added bonus employees often find custom solutions easier to adapt to. Another benefit of custom software is that it’s scalable. You can start small, and as your business grows and changes, the software can expand accordingly.

Although the upfront cost is greater with a custom solution, it could be less expensive in the long run thanks to improved efficiency and the fact that you’ll be relived of license fees, per seat fees and upgrade fees that often accompany off the shelf solutions.

Just like a COTS product, a custom developed product has drawbacks. In addition to requiring a hefty upfront investment, there is always the change that you’ll hire a subpar developer and won’t get what you paid for or what you expected. Also, because the product is designed just for you, there isn’t a user community to interact with and you can’t simply return the software if you aren’t satisfied.

When considering the pros and cons of COTS and custom software, keep in mind that if the product does not fit the needs of your business, it isn’t the right solution, no matter how affordable it is. Couple the information we’ve given you with a thorough examination of both solutions to ensure you choose the most powerful platform for your small business.