If the process you’re working on is elastic and you can adapt it freely, you’ll probably find a satisfying product on the market. On the other hand, if the process is stable and complex, and has many connections to other environments, it’s probably wiser to build a custom solution. That’s because it’ll be, in the end, cheaper, quicker, and more comfortable for you and your company. Why? For that, I invite you to read the rest of this article. Enjoy!

What’s the difference between an off-the-shelf solution and a customized one?

Working directly with the clients in a software house every now and then, I hear the same question: Is the custom solution going to be better than an off-the-shelf product for us? Let’s try to highlight the most important issues you need to consider.

Sure, I’m blogging on the website of a software house, and we make money on tailored solutions. You probably expect me not to be objective in this case. Being a presales expert though, I’m always thinking about what’s best for the client. Because of that, I always provide a sincere analysis, no matter if our solutions are the best option. Only a happy client builds your business after all.

Software pricing

So, to start with a major topic, let’s talk about the price. Of course, custom solutions are an exclusive product tailored to one client’s needs, and it has to be paid for. Commercial products are designed for thousands of clients, so the client contributes in the cost with many others. 

On the other hand, the solutions designed to fulfil anyone’s needs have to be extremely versatile and complex. In the end, the single client ends up using just a small bit of the tool’s capabilities while still paying for all of it. If you want to open a bottle of wine, you don’t need to buy a Swiss Army knife, you just want a corkscrew. 

The final price difference might be surprising. Many times I’ve met clients who decided to go for a custom solution because it was way cheaper than its commercial counterpart.

Read more about good choices: Five things to consider when choosing a software development company

Tool usability and operation

The complexity of the off-the-shelf tools is also an important issue because it usually kills the tool’s clarity. If you use 3% of the tool’s features, it’s probably not easy to find them, no matter how good the user experience (UX) expertise is. If your solution is bespoke, you can be sure that no unneeded buttons or menus will spoil the simplicity of using it. This allows you to introduce new people to the process quicker and to keep it as uncomplicated as possible.

On the other hand, in case you decide to implement commercial products, you can find people that are already trained on the job market. However, you need to be ready to pay them more for their expertise.

Alignment to processes

Another important issue is the flexibility of the process. Most of the processes are pretty standard, and they can be covered by the typical use cases of the off-the-shelf products. Each business and company have some specific processes, rules, or features that are unique for only them. It’s like an internal dictionary for specialized words or a very uncommon way of building the product.

In this case, the commercial product would have to be so heavily adapted that it either doesn’t make sense on the financial side or is actually impossible. That’s because any commercial tool, at some point, has limitations. So, the question here is, can you rebuild your process to adapt to the tool’s boundaries? If not, then it’s better to look for a custom solution.

Development of a customized tool

One of the biggest pros of commercial products is their constant development. It’s a big advantage. Whenever bugs or issues are found, and they always are, you can count on the company that produced the tool to fix them. However, not all bugs and improvements are relevant to you, but you still pay the subscription for all of it. On top of that, some bugs might be critical to your process, but globally and for all the clients, it might be a minor issue. That means you might wait longer for the fix to be delivered. 

On the other hand, when working with a software house, you need to define the way you treat the bugs within a contract. The advantage of this solution is that you are in charge of the bug backlog priorities, so you can be sure that most crucial issues will be handled first. A disadvantage here is obvious: You’ll have to pay for everything that’s fixed.

Very important: quick and easy integration

The integration with other tools is another point to consider. Again, no easy answer is possible here. The biggest off-the-shelf products have a very wide range of built-in integrations. A software house has to develop most of them. On the other hand, if the commercial product doesn’t integrate with a particular tool from your requirements, it’s very unlikely you’ll get it soon. No limits like this are applicable to custom development.

The scalability of the project

The off-the-shelf product has its price. That price is somehow negotiable, but still quite stable. In case your budget is too low, you can’t proceed. When you build a bespoke solution, you can adapt to any budget and build some of the key features or crucial concepts. Choose any of the top abbreviations, like PoC, MVP, and MBP, and the possibilities are endless. 

You need to rank your priorities and cross them off from the top while still controlling the pricing of them at the same time, of course. This is something you can work out while working with a software house dev team. If you decide to hire a product manager on their side, your work is done right after setting the priority list.

IT experts guide you in your decisions

As you can see, there’s quite a lot to consider. I think that in many cases if you go through my list, you might find out what you’re looking for. The world is full of cases that aren’t black and white though. If that’s the case with you, I’d suggest finding two or three of the most suitable off-the-shelf products and ask them for quotes. Then, find a diligent software house who will analyze and provide feedback on how much work there is on the custom dev side. 

However, remember to be specific about what you’re asking for, and define the scope with only the critical features. This should give you a good comparison. In case all of the quotes exceed your budget, try to work with the custom guys on how you can decrease the cost of the solution. Sometimes prioritizing some things allows you to get a massive deduction on the cost.

I hope all that I’ve presented above will be helpful to all of you looking for the best IT solution to solve their problems. In case you have any doubts, please feel free to contact me directly. In the meantime, to make this article more clear, please find a summary of it with this simple table: