Custom Software

Build it or Buy it? When to Invest in Custom Software

Explore the pros and cons of off-the-shelf software solutions and compare them with custom software. Ultimately, discover whether you should build it or buy it.

Now that we’re in the digital age, there’s one fact business owners can’t escape– you will need to use technology to remain competitive and successful. You attend virtual meetings through apps like Zoom, use programs like Excel, or have a website as a digital storefront. If we look at data from PR Newswireupwards of 90% of small businesses jumped to digital in 2020– with 70% understanding that technology will play a more significant role in their business in the future. 

Regardless of industry, there’s no denying that the right software can help take your business to the next level, and it’s well worth the investment. However, when it comes to software solutions, the real dilemma is this:

Should you build it or buy it?

In this post, we’ll delve into the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing off-the-shelf software and custom software solutions to help you better decide which option is best for your business.

Buying Off-The-Shelf Software

First, we’ll cover buying off-the-shelf software. Off-the-shelf software is offered by a SaaS company already doing the heavy lifting, such as designing, coding, and deploying the software. Let’s go over the pros and cons of this solution so you can see if it will be a good fit for your business.

Off-The-Shelf Software: The Pros

There are several benefits of purchasing off-the-shelf software. These include:

1. It’s a Budget-Friendly Option

SaaS companies offer their products on a subscription model, which makes it easier for you to get started. This makes it the ideal option for small businesses or startups with a tight budget.

2. It’s Ready to Go

You won’t have to spend time planning, designing, developing, and deploying the software because off-the-shelf software is ready to go as soon as you start your subscription. As a result, you’ll likely only spend a few weeks getting everything configured and linked up with the programs you’re already using.

3. You Have a Dedicated Support Team to Rely On

When something goes wrong, you’ll have the SaaS company’s support team to assist you and resolve your issues. 

4. The Software is Constantly Updating and Evolving

Off-the-shelf software is constantly updated with new features and patches that make it better, more secure, and easier to use. In addition, the company’s team is constantly looking for ways to add value to its product for customers.

5. There’s an Established Community for You to Engage With

Off-the-shelf software, such as Salesforce or Oracle, have a thriving community of users that write tutorials, create videos, and share ideas about the service that can help you get the most out of the service. 

6. There’s Lower Risk than Building Custom Software

You can be confident that the software works and has the features you’re looking for since it’s been tried and tested by many other companies. 

Off-the-Shelf Software: The Cons

Of course, there are a ton of benefits with off-the-shelf software. However, there are some cons to consider if you’re thinking about using this option.

1. It Might Not Work With Your Existing Systems

If you already have software and services you use, off-the-shelf software might not be compatible with what you already have running. In these cases, you’ll have to build a custom solution that might cost as much (or more if you add in the subscription fee) as building your custom software from the ground up.

2. Slow Updates and Upgrades

Depending on how quickly you need features and solutions, it might be a long time before the vendor gets around to implementing them into their product. However, at the end of the day, their goal is to satisfy most customers, so building your product might be the choice if you need a unique system.

3. A Lack of Functionality

Most off-the-shelf software takes a one-size-fits-all approach, so there isn’t a lot of functionality in the framework. This is the biggest reason some businesses opt to build a custom solution, especially if they have unique needs and requirements.

Building Custom Software

Now, let’s take a look at building custom apps. This solution means your business gets a piece of software that’s designed, developed, and deployed that’s one of a kind for your company. Let’s first look at the pros of choosing to “build it,” Then, we’ll cover some of the cons you need to consider when going this route.

Building Custom Software: The Pros

Building custom software offers a host of benefits for you and your company, such as:

1. You’ll Have Complete Ownership

Once your custom app is complete, it’s yours. That means you’re free to make changes, scale, and customize it as you fit, depending on how your business evolves and grows over time. In addition, you don’t have to worry about nuances from licensing software, such as fees or limitations imposed by the SaaS company that offers off-the-shelf software.

2. You Don’t Need to Waste Time/Money Configuring the Software

When you purchase pre-built software from other companies, such as Salesforce or Oracle, you’ll need to spend resources and time getting the software set up to work for your business. Since custom software is developed and tailored to the specific needs of your business, it’s ready to go from the start.

3. It’s Fully Customizable

As the name implies, “custom” software gives you unrivaled control over the entire app, from design to development to deployment. You can choose the framework, the features, the rules, the look, and everything in between. From the ground up, it’s built entirely with your business needs in mind.

4. You’ll Stand Out from the Competition

Custom software gives you a leg up over the competition since it can make your company more productive and efficient and provide unique features and services unavailable elsewhere.

5. It’s  Future-proof

Both business and technology are constantly evolving. Building custom software gives you a solid foundation to adapt as the landscape changes.

6. You’ll Have Direct Support for Your Application

No matter how well-built the application is, bugs and vulnerabilities will pop up that need to be quickly and efficiently addressed. You’ll have access to the team that builds your app to fix issues instead of waiting for another company to deliver a patch that solves the problem.

Building Custom Software: The Cons

Of course, there are a few disadvantages and risks that come with building custom software that you should keep in mind when making the decision.

1. The Initial Upfront Investment

The most significant disadvantage comes from the upfront cost of building custom software. This creates a barrier of entry that prevents many startups and small businesses from going this route. Remember, it will take some time to see an investment return. However, for grand long-term goals, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Further Reading: Budgeting for Your App

2. You’ll Need to Wait Before It’s Finished

Another issue that puts companies off the “build it” choice is the time it takes to get a fully developed product. It can take months to get a working program and even longer for it to have all the bells and whistles you’re looking for. So if you need something fast that’s ready to go, you might want to consider buying off-the-shelf software.

3. The Finished Product Isn’t What You Were Looking

The greatest risk of building custom software is that you’ll end up with the wrong product– meaning all the money and time you’ve invested is wasted. However, you can mitigate the risk by approaching it with the right game plan. It requires research and a winning product strategy to avoid this pitfall and blow your budget on a useless product.

How Do You Decide Between Buy It or Build It?

The choice comes down to what you need the software to do. If it’s something like payroll, a customer support chatbot, or project management, you can likely buy an off-the-shelf software solution with everything you need.

However, if it’s something unique to your business, it will be worth investing in getting your software built specifically for your needs.

Of course, there are plenty of other considerations, such as cost, time, and the amount of control you want over the software, to name a few. And you can always mix and match the two by taking a hybrid approach where you layer a custom solution over the top of off-the-shelf software– giving you the best of both worlds.

If you’ve decided that building custom software is the right choice for you or you're on the fence, then we’d be happy to help you out. Book a project call with one of our friendly experts and we’ll get your company started on the right development path today.

Talk to our team to scope your next project.