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'Off The Shelf' Software Or A Customised Solution?


 John Howard
John Howard

Which option is best for your business? A packaged, 'off the shelf', plug 'n play application being used by thousands of people around the world... or a highly specialised one-off application?

Both packaged and customised software offer advantages and disadvantages. For example, a generic product has been tried and tested and is trusted by many users so there is little risk in implementing it, versus the fact that something created just for your business is untried. Consider the fact that an 'out of the box' product is relatively quick and easy to implement and it is backed up by the manufacturer and their local vendor. In contrast, a lot more time is required by a software developer to analyse your specific needs list, then design, develop and road test the finished product before it can be introduced. When a 'standard' software application is enhanced the developer provides an upgraded version - sometimes free of charge. When a customised package has to be improved there is a need for more programming and coding (meaning more cost and delay).

It might sound like this is a one-sided comparison, but it isn't. Explore the differences in more detail starting with the negatives associated with packaged products. They are 'one size fits all' solutions therefore they include functionality not required by every business. In trying to be 'all things to everybody' they are more complex which results in a cumbersome and inefficient user experience.

The limited flexibility of these applications causes businesses to have to change their internal procedures to suit the software, rather than it enhancing their operation. A simple outcome requires multiple steps. It often takes too long to find data, and that data is not in-depth enough. It isn’t specific to each business and doesn’t provide all of the information required by management. With a lack of flexibility comes an inability for this type of software to integrate with other systems.

One last point, your competitors are most likely using the same software so where is your competitive advantage?

The main reasons against using tailored software have been mentioned: it takes longer to develop and implement, it is untried and the up-front cost is higher – although over time this can even itself out.

When you take into account the benefits of having someone design an application unique to your business, the positives outweigh the negatives.

You are in control of the system development phase. You decide what features you want to have and what the user dashboard will look like. You determine how many clicks or menus are necessary to produce desired outcomes - which makes for a much more pleasant user experience. You choose what data it will report on each month and how the information will be presented. If the business is reliant on other software products, you select the level of integration. The product can be designed to grow with your business by making it ready to accept more functionality later on. It can be evolving technology.

From a technical perspective, a customised solution is less vulnerable to outside threats (eg. hacking) which adds more security to the business operation and its IP.

A tailored solution provides a powerful competitive advantage. Functionality can be written into the product which delivers services and outcomes specific to the current and future needs of customers. At the same time, because management are receiving a constant supply of rich data they are in a much better position to make high-level business building decisions to accelerate their progress.

There is evidence that a personalised interface leads to improved staff morale. No longer are employees restricted and frustrated by limiting software. Tasks which took hours – such as producing reports – are now completed in minutes. Functions which required convoluted processes are achieved with a few key strokes. Staff are much happier because they are completing tasks quicker and easier. The business experiences significant gains in efficiency and productivity which are reflected in the bottom line.

‘Off the shelf’ software is definitely beneficial…however solutions written specifically to the wants and needs of a business, as either a stand-alone piece of code or modification of an existing packaged product, deliver dramatically greater outcomes.  

Very little pre-packaged business software actually delivers everything that is required for fully comprehensive business decision making.
Smoothstream specialises in three step data Extract, Transform, Load programs that deliver value add, decision making reports without having to abandon existing software.


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