Bespoke software can offer your company huge benefits and give you an edge over the competition, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice in every scenario. In this article, we’ll take a look at how custom solutions can help a business – what are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of this approach. We’ll also try to answer the most important question: who, and when, should use bespoke software?
What is bespoke software?
Every company that wishes to be successful today needs good software. Various systems and applications connect us, allow us to sell, buy, manage data and carry out a myriad of different tasks and actions necessary in specific businesses. Sometimes that software comes “off the shelf”, meaning it’s a certain product, with a given specification, that is being sold to every client in more or less the same format (there are often several variants to choose from, but aside from slight differences between them, it’s the same software).
Bespoke software (also known as custom software), on the other hand, is a solution created from the ground up for a specific client. It might be based on some of the same technologies that were used to create off-the-shelf solutions (things like frameworks and programming languages), but the final system or application itself is substantially different, and more in line with your company’s business model, requirements, and expectations.
Custom software tends to be a huge advantage in the current, competitive market. In some cases, it’s pretty much a necessity (more on that later).
Advantages of bespoke software
Have you ever tried shoes or a suit made specifically for you? A tailor or a shoemaker takes your measurements, asks you for some additional information (such as the fabric/material and general style), and then creates a product based on that specification. The end result is something that fits you much better than the usual, ready-made clothing, and is a lot more comfortable – especially if your physique is somehow out of the norm (for example, you’re exceptionally tall).
The idea behind bespoke software is to apply the same philosophy to systems and applications for companies. Sure, there are many different off-the-shelf solutions on the market. Some of them might fit your business a little bit better, some a little bit less, but the simple truth is that none will work as well as something that was created specifically with your business’s needs and “measurements” in mind – especially if your business model is unique and/or you want to be your market’s leader. Here’s what custom-made software can offer you.
High quality and exact specification
Since bespoke software is – by its very nature – something that was made specifically for you, you have the last word when it comes to technologies and functionalities. That obviously means you can add things your company needs, which is great.
What is perhaps a little bit less obvious is that, at the same time, you don’t need to pay for features that are present in standard off-the-shelf solutions but prove useless when it comes to your business needs. You can make your software lighter and easier to use this way, which is always a boon.
Another thing that might not be obvious right from the get-go is that in the case of bespoke software, you’re the one who sets the quality standard. You can change things up and test them until the final product works precisely as you want it to (within reasonable bounds, because some things just may not be possible). You can also scale the software up – meaning start with a simple MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and add new features later.
Scalability and easier integration
When you make your solution from scratch, you can ensure that it’ll fit your existing infrastructure without any problems, which is often not the case with off-the-shelf software – in fact, to integrate ready-made products properly, you often need to change and/or upgrade several different things, which increases the final cost (sometimes substantially).
If the website of a certain out-of-the-box product states that it’s compatible with some other system you use – it probably does. But if your system is not on the list – prepare for trouble. It isn’t always obvious and might be of paramount importance, especially in the case of big corporations that rely on many different systems to function.
Scalability is yet another great boon of bespoke software – when you help design your system yourself, you can make sure it’s adequately future-proof and takes into account your company’s planned growth (often by utilizing technologies such as the cloud). This means you’ll be able to grow without any constraints and make as much money as your product and/or services allow you to. In this sense, and considering the additional costs of integrating off-the-shelf solutions, if you look at your software in the long-term spectrum, the choice to “go bespoke” can actually be quite profitable.
Ownership and the question of security
Another thing to take note of is the fact that you own the custom-made solution that was made specifically for you, and you don’t own off-the-shelf software in the same way – you only license it. This means that when you use bespoke software, you can make any changes to your system you deem necessary and generally do whatever the heck you want with it.
Another issue – somewhat connected to ownership – is security. A product that exists on the market, and can be bought and used by many different companies, will always attract more unwanted attention from hackers and scammers, than a solution created specifically for one organization. Vulnerabilities of off-the-shelf programs are more widely known and shared among bad actors, which can be used against you.
Cross-team development, and the quality of maintenance
When choosing to create bespoke software, you can also include your own people in the development process. The most obvious choice is to delegate your IT department (or at least a part of it) to help the outside vendor’s team and work closely with it. Such cross-team collaboration can be beneficial – your employees can learn the ropes and keep a finger on the pulse. However, that’s not the only option – even non-technical people can be included to a degree so that later they have an easier time working with the software.
Bespoke software can also result in better quality – and often lower cost – of maintenance, especially if you choose your software house partner wisely (not every vendor wants to offer such services). Ask yourself this: who’ll prioritize you more and offer a more personalized approach – a small or average-sized software company for which you’re one of a few clients or a firm that has to handle hundreds, thousands of different organizations? It seems quite obvious.
Design compatible with your brand
And, finally, since you help plan every element of your future system, you can also make sure its design will be compatible with your company’s brand. Some off-the-shelf solutions are white-labeled which means that you can change their interfaces a bit – for example, use your logo and change the basic colors. But if you want to customize your software’s look even further, you need to go for a bespoke solution. This may not be very important in the case of software that will be used internally, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when you make applications that your clients will see.
Bespoke software development – drawbacks and things to be aware of
While bespoke software has many advantages, it’s not all roses and butterflies. There are also some drawbacks and challenges you need to consider.
Long production and implementation
Well-made bespoke software can fit your needs perfectly, but actually creating and implementing it can be a long and challenging endeavor. It will require much, much more time and effort than simply buying an off-the-shelf solution. It’s very probable that it’ll be worth it in the end, but you know the saying – time is money. Production time is an issue that always has to be carefully considered.
If you’re thinking ahead and it’s OK that your software will be ready in a few months – bespoke software development might be a thing for you. But if you need a software solution right now – choose a ready-to-go product.
High entry price
As we’ve already mentioned above, time is money, yes. It’s true both for your company, and the software house you hire to make your system. That means you’ll certainly have to pay more for your ideal solution, than for something ready-made. It’s especially evident when you consider the short-term costs – as the long-term image can look widely different, thanks to several factors we’ve already covered, like scalability and cheaper maintenance. The high initial investment is definitely something you need to be ready for, however.
Being dependent on an outside company
We’ve mentioned the security of custom-made systems as a boon, but of course, it can be a double-edged sword – whoever creates the software for you will also know it in and out, so you really need to hire a vendor you can trust.
It’s not just about security either – when you’ll want to make some changes in the system, usually the best solution will be to hire the people who made it for you since they’ll be able to implement whatever you want in the least amount of time. This can lead to creating a kind of dependability that you may not necessarily appreciate.
The necessity of finding the right people for the job
Many of the issues mentioned above boil down to one simple fact – you really need to find a good, trustworthy partner for any bespoke software project. You need a company with great references, a good track record, and – ideally – some experience with the type of software you want to create. Depending on the market you exist in that can, in and of itself, be something of a problem.
Thankfully, we now function in a global reality, where such issues are easily rectified. There are also independent companies that judge software houses based on the opinions of their clients. Clutch is probably the most popular among these websites.
Custom software examples
Listing the advantages and problems of bespoke software is nice, but showing some real-world examples is better. Here are some projects we at Pretius created for our partners.
Sale system for a big telco company
For a Polish branch of a big company from the telecommunications sector, we’ve created a complete sales management system – a dashboard that integrated several existing solutions in one place, allowing easy access to important tools (especially sales functionalities) and all the client information. Such integration of a few existing systems wouldn’t be possible if not for a bespoke software solution. It made the employees’ lives much easier, resulting in faster, and more efficient customer service.
Loyalty platform that introduced a new product to the market
Pretius was tasked with making a custom loyalty platform for one of the biggest companies in the tobacco sector. The software was supposed to help introduce a new, smoke-free alternative to cigarettes to the market. We’ve created it in record time, utilizing trusted rapid-application-development solutions and a world-class infrastructure based on Amazon’s cloud solutions (AWS) and microservices. We’ve also created a custom design for this platform. The system allowed our partner’s new product to gain recognition among clients, resulting in many successful sales.
Close collaboration with a transportation company
A big company from the transportation industry asked us to modernize the systems they use, improve their architecture and efficiency. They wanted a solution that would allow them to fully utilize their resources and the skills of their employees. We’ve created just that, collaborating with them closely during the development process. We’ve taught their team the Agile methodology and showed them how to use the Oracle Application Express low-code technology. We’ve also trained the company’s employees in the use of the new software.
When do you need bespoke software?
So, we’ve defined what bespoke software is, and analyzed its pros and cons. Now let’s face the important questions that remain: when is a custom-made solution the right choice? Who should consider this approach?
The simple answer is that in the long-term, it can benefit pretty much everyone, but simple answers aren’t what you’re here for. The fact is that in the current market conditions, considering the intense competition from companies both locally and abroad, bespoke software slowly becomes a necessity in most industries, such as telecommunications, spedition and logistics, automotive, entertainment, and so on. However, this is mostly true for market leaders and their big, notable competitors. Smaller players can get by using off-the-shelf software, and the same can be true for medium-sized companies with relatively simple products and/or services. For such organizations, the risk of the high initial investment might not be worth the long-term gains – at least not at this point in time.
Best way to proceed? Analyze off-the-shelf options, see what they can do for you, consider what they lack, and ask yourself whether your business can thrive without it. If it can – bespoke software probably isn’t the best choice for you, at least for now. However, if using a ready-made system will make things too problematic for your employees, and especially for your clients, and customizing it seems too costly or complicated to be worth the effort (required integrations with existing technologies are one possible reason for that), consider an investment in a full-blown custom software solution. Especially, if you like to think ahead and want your tech to be future-proof.
Do you want complex bespoke software?
Pretius has 15 years of experience with developing custom software solutions for market leaders. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org (or use the contact form below) and tell us what you need. We’ll check what we can do to help and get back to you in 48 hours.