If the software can be uniquely valuable to your business, then bespoke software offers a great commercial opportunity. But it requires substantial investment, and you will be living with the decision for years to come.
Conversely, an enormous range of off-the-shelf software is now available, and it is increasingly flexible and powerful. And modern off-the-shelf products are normally cloud-based with subscription pricing, so they are easier than ever to own and operate.
Large off-the-shelf implementations, however, are also difficult and complex projects, and they will not provide your business with a point of difference. In fact, normally, these projects are deliberately aiming to drive established best-practice into business processes and to enforce standardisation and rationalisation.
Custom software development on the other hand is complicated and risky, but it can deliver uniqueness and genuinely valuable innovation. This comes at a price, and many bespoke software projects fail—bespoke software is valuable because it’s not easy.
What are the benefits of bespoke software?
Bespoke software can deliver stand-out user experiences and functionality. This may allow your business operation to do something different and better than the competition; it may allow you to deliver valuable innovations.
But business leaders need to ask themselves this challenging question: Is it a genuine innovation, and would customers value it?
Bespoke software can be a means to create new market opportunities, to build engaging brand experiences for your customers, and to radically reduce cost or service. It can bring innovation and digital thinking to the heart of your business culture.
Find out how we are helping a mid-market business with a bespoke software project.
What are the disadvantages of bespoke software?
Bespoke software projects are very difficult to plan and manage, and because anything is possible, it is often difficult to manage scope.
Conversations between non-technical business leaders and highly technical software developers are often fraught. It’s very difficult for non-technical leaders to assess the completeness, security, or quality of software, and developers often struggle to explain the implications of their design decisions. Effort estimates are notoriously unreliable, and problems may only become apparent very late, so relationships can become strained.
All bespoke software requires ongoing fixes and changes, either to address errors (which are inevitable) or keep up with the continual evolution of IT. As there really is no end to a bespoke software project, you need to ensure that experts are always available and involved. And tools and approaches that work for small-scale software are not appropriate for large, important software products, so if the project is successful, there is a constant need to upgrade.
Many business leaders are frustrated that the costs never seem to end.
How can I ensure that bespoke software delivers innovation?
Businesses that embark on bespoke software need to understand the likely cost and effort in the short-, medium- and long-term. They need to create a robust business plan that demonstrates the value and remain entirely focussed on delivering it.
They need to ensure that have the necessary technical skills and leadership skills to deliver the software to time and budget and to deliver the intended business outcomes.
For more non-technical advice, visit our ERP and Integration Issues Knowledge Centre, which includes all content related to this topic.
Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT directors, CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with SME and mid-market organisations, and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.