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