News & Insights

 
Insights14th November 2019

Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom Software – David’s 6 Step Guide

Introduction

Your organisation has streamlined a set of processes and it’s time for automation to take your team’s productivity to the next level. You know that software is the solution but what kind of software do you choose? For organisations in this position, there are two main options.  You can shop for a product that already exists; this is known as buying ‘off-the-shelf software’. The second option is to engage with a technology partner to develop your own software. This is software specifically designed to your company’s needs, goals and processes.

How Do I Know When Off-The-Shelf Software Just Won’t Suit My Business?

As a technology partner, the expectation is that we always favour software development but that is not true. Our advice is to consider all options before deciding. In this piece, ActionPoint’s Lead Architect David Rose provides a 6 Step Selection Process for buying off-the-shelf software and tips on how to spot when off-the-shelf just won’t fit.

Step 1.  Google Is Your Friend

The first and most obvious step – use Google. Enter in your search criteria and see what’s out there. You might find a solution that is perfectly matched to your needs. The only way to know for sure is to look.

Step 2.  Your People Can Provide Valuable Insights

Between them, the members of your team might have worked in a range of different companies. Be sure to ask your staff about their experiences of off-the-shelf software, especially in relation to the issue you are trying to solve.

Step 3.  Compare Features

At this point you might have found five or six products on the market that fit your need and gathered anecdotal advice on their merits. Let’s assume you have narrowed your search down to a top three.

Different products will have different feature sets. At this point you need to decide what are the must-have features.  These are the features that you set out to find in the first place. If any, or all, of the products on your list don’t have features that closely resemble these, you may already be in trouble. You might need to skip straight to step 6 and start researching software development options.  However, let’s continue with the assumption that most features were covered, and you still have a two-horse race.

Step 4.  Understand the Costs

You have two products that you are happy with. Let’s find out the true costs.

Both products are labelled as free or relatively inexpensive for up to 25 users and you only have 20 users, so all looks good. However, there are still a number of factors that should be considered.

With certain off-the-shelf solutions, key features may fall behind a paywall or may do so in the future. You know your current requirements, but have you looked ahead at what your needs will be next year or even the next five years? It’s important to look towards the future and whether or not the solution will meet your business requirements further down the line. All of these costs must be considered.

Step 5. Understand the Risks of Off-the-Shelf

There are several risks associated with off-the-shelf software that you need to be aware of.

Firstly, the scale of your business may change, and the off-the-shelf solution may quickly become cost prohibitive. This is a major risk. If staying agile is important for your business, off-the-shelf may not be the right fit. Be aware of the projected costs if your team grows or your level of usage increases.

Other risks include the lack of control and influence you have over the solution. When you invest in off-the-shelf, you are locked into the product. Training cycles and migrations from other systems can mean switching at a later date can be very difficult.

Step 6.  Is Off-The-Shelf Going to Work for Your Business?

In the previous five steps we have tried to demystify the due diligence process when selecting an off-the-shelf software solution.  At this point, you should have one product that you are strongly considering. Now it’s time for the final step – the evaluation as to whether off-the-shelf is right for your business.

In steps 4 and 5, we covered the costs and the risk respectively and it’s time to evaluate both. If your business can afford the risks outlined and the product is unlikely to trigger too many of them, then you might have found a solution. However, if you find that the risks are too great and the costs too unpredictable, it may be time to consider software development.

When off-the-shelf isn’t the answer…

For software development there is a brand new, much simpler, process to embark on. Step 1 is to visit ActionPoint’s software development page and find out how ActionPoint can help. Off-the-shelf software might not suit your business needs but ActionPoint can help your organisation develop software that can.