Off-the-shelf vs. Custom Software:
What to Consider

When looking for a software solution to your current business problem, you need to carefully examine your options before deciding what will best meet your needs.

Generally, there are two options: off-the-shelf and custom. Each solution brings with it several considerations. The following are some of the questions that should be asked before deciding on a solution:

For an Off-the-shelf Product:

  • Does it meet all of your essential requirements?

  • Is the product easy to use?

  • If the product is complex, would your staff use the product as it is intended?

  • Would you be paying for a lot of features that you don’t really need?

  • Does the cost of the product, including extra features you don’t need or won’t use plus training, provide you with the returns you need in order to justify the expense?

  • In order for your staff to use the product effectively and efficiently, is additional training a necessity?

  • Do you know the cost of training and support before you buy the product?

  • Is the cost of training or support reasonable and within your budget?

  • Are you required to pay additional licensing fees?
    When you buy off-the-shelf software you are frequently subject to licensing fees. The initial purchase price for a product often limits your right of use to a limited number of current users. You have to pay extra if you want the product to be accessible to more users.

For a Custom Solution:

In addition to the above questions, you also need to consider the following points:
  • Your up-front investment cost may be higher than for an off-the-shelf package, so you need to factor in your long-term return on investment to determine the cost benefit of a custom solution.

  • The time frame by which you require your application must be carefully determined. Sufficient lead-time is required in order to ensure that the product will be ready on time, whereas an off-the-shelf package can usually be picked up whenever needed.

  • Sometimes a custom application can be integrated into an off-the-shelf product. An example of this is when you want to add a feature to an off-the-shelf product that it doesn’t currently have or that is very expensive to acquire as a ready-made solution. The latter situation would more likely apply to very large and expensive off-the-shelf products.

  • Because custom software is designed to meet your specific needs, it will do exactly what you want it to.

  • With a custom application you pay only for the features you need and have asked for.

  • A well-designed custom application should be easy to use and intuitive.

  • The cost of and amount of training required should be known up-front before you commit to the project. Additional support can often be negotiated on an as needed basis.

  • You need to identify how much your problem is costing you if left unresolved.

  • There are normally no licencing fees with custom solutions. Once you have paid for the product, you can usually make as many copies as you need.