The advantages of bespoke software are often overlooked due to the wide variety of off-the-shelf options available today, coupled with the belief that bespoke software is more costly, slow to develop and implement, difficult to maintain, and incompatible with the shift to cloud.
“However, the general arguments around bespoke software and its off-the-shelf counterpart miss several important and nuanced issues. When it comes to businesses choosing which way to go, there are critical questions that need to be borne in mind, not least of which is that going the bespoke route requires a team of experienced developers and a thorough understanding of the organisation's requirements. Therefore, organisations should carefully consider their needs, resources and budget to ensure that bespoke is the best option for them,” he adds.
On the other hand, Bensch says there are many advantages inherent in bespoke software that off-the-shelf software can’t match. These include:
- Customisation: While customisable off-the-shelf software can be tailored to meet an organisation’s needs, there are limits to how far this can go. Bespoke software can be completely customised to meet the specific requirements of the organisation and empower it to run the way it needs to in order to offer the products and services that set it apart from its competitors.
- Integration: Customisable off-the-shelf software may not integrate seamlessly with existing software and systems. Bespoke software can be designed to integrate with existing software and systems, providing a cohesive solution that improves efficiency.
- Competitive advantage: Bespoke software can provide a competitive advantage by offering unique capabilities and functionality that competitors do not have. It can also enable an organisation to develop innovative solutions that can lead to increased market share and revenue.
- Data security: Bespoke software can be designed with security in mind, which can provide better protection against cyber threats and data breaches.
- Cost-effectiveness: Although bespoke software can be more expensive to develop initially, it can be more cost-effective in the long run. It eliminates ongoing licensing and subscription fees associated with off-the-shelf software, potentially resulting in significant cost savings over time.
- Ongoing development: Customised software, built on a platform, allows the company to continue building more applications to support the business. This approach empowers the company to keep innovating, digitalising and delivering the software applications that business needs to run efficiently.
- Increased flexibility: Bespoke software can be designed to be flexible and scalable, meaning it can grow and adapt to the changing needs of the organisation.
- Competitive advantage: Bespoke software can provide a competitive advantage by offering unique capabilities and functionality that competitors do not have.
Despite all these advantages, Bensch warns that much can go awry on the way to developing and implementing an effective bespoke software solution, and in its ongoing maintenance and development.
He offers the following seven tips to follow to ensure an investment in bespoke software solution delivers on the business’s expectations and needs.
- Preparation: Clearly define your business requirements and the outcomes you want to achieve from the software. This will also help you to research potential development companies to find one with the expertise to deliver the required functionality and features; draw up specifications that everyone understands; reduce the risk of project creep; and have the project delivered on time and within budget.
- Choose a reputable software development company: Develop a shortlist of those you think could be a good fit and do a small pilot or test to evaluate the company and process. Do they have a track record in delivering successful software development projects that are similar in scope and complexity to yours? Do they have communication skills to be able to work collaboratively? Do they have the project management skills – planning, scheduling, risk management and quality assurance – to keep the project on track? And don’t forget to check their references. Finally, consider the cost of the project, the payment schedule and whether there are any additional fees and charges. Ensure payment is done on milestones.
- Get on the same page: Many of the frustrations and failures associated with bespoke software can be avoided by ensuring the correct people thoroughly read and vet the specification documentation. This will help to ensure that everyone understands the requirements for the software, help to avoid misunderstandings, help with more accurately estimating the time and resources required to complete the project and identify any potential issues that could prevent the final software meeting the company’s needs and being delivered on time and within budget.
- Develop a detailed contract: The contract should clearly define the terms and conditions of the project, including the scope of work, timelines, deliverables, support and maintenance and ownership of the software. The contract should also include provisions for updates and upgrades and specify how they will be handled.
- Document the development process: The development process, including design decisions, coding and testing, must be clearly documented. This will help ensure the software can be maintained and updated by new development teams if necessary. Changes will happen during the project. Ensure that request for change is documented with the same accuracy as the original scope. Timelines and costs must be adjusted accordingly and signed off by all parties.
- Support and maintenance: The development partner should provide ongoing support and maintenance for the software after it is delivered. This must include bug fixes and, importantly, updates and enhancements. A plan for resolving any issues that arise should be established.
- Plan for the future: To help ensure the software remains relevant and useful over time, companies should plan for future updates and upgrades by considering potential changes in their business needs and the evolution of technology.
What about cloud? According to Bensch, many organisations are increasingly turning to cloud-based solutions for their bespoke software needs.
“Using the cloud for bespoke software can offer many benefits, including scalability, flexibility, accessibility and security. However, organisations should carefully consider their needs and requirements before selecting a cloud-based solution.
“There is no question that developing bespoke software can be costly and time-consuming. It requires a team of experienced developers and a thorough understanding of the organisation's requirements – but the rewards of taking this route with the right development partner can be immeasurable,” Bensch concludes.
Custom-built software can offer significant advantages over off-the-shelf options, such as the ability to customise features to match specific needs, increased security, and flexibility. However, organisations should weigh up the pros and cons, and ensure they prepare thoroughly and choose the right software development company. To ensure an investment in bespoke software solution delivers on the business’s expectations and needs it is important to clearly defining requirements and use a reputable software development company.
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