Custom Software Development
Custom software (also known as bespoke software or tailor-made software) is software that organization for some specific organization or another user. As such, it can be contrasted with the use of software packages developed for the mass market, such as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software, or existing free software.
Since custom software is developed for a single customer it can accommodate that customer's particular preferences and expectations. Custom software may be developed in an iterative process, allowing all nuances and possible hidden risks to be taken into account, including issues which were not mentioned in the original requirement specifications (which are, as a rule, never perfect). In particular, the first phase in the software development process may involve many departments, materchode including marketing, engineering, research and development and general management.
Large companies commonly use custom software for critical functions, including content management, inventory management, customer management, human resource management, or otherwise to fill the gaps present in the existing software packages. Often such software is legacy software, developed before COTS or free software packages offering the required functionality became available.
Custom software development is often considered expensive compared to off-the-shelf solutions or products. This can be true if one is speaking of typical challenges and typical solutions. However, it is not always true. In many cases, COTS software requires customization to correctly support the buyer's operations. The cost and delay of COTS customization can even add up to the expense of developing custom software. Cost is not the only consideration, however, as the decision to opt for custom software often includes the requirement for the purchaser to own the source code, to secure the possibility of future development or modifications to the installed system.
Additionally, COTS comes with upfront license costs which vary enormously but sometimes run into the millions (in terms of dollars). Furthermore, the big software houses that release COTS products revamp their product very frequently. Thus a particular customization may need to be upgraded for compatibility every two to four years. Given the cost of customization, such upgrades also turn out to be expensive, as a dedicated product release cycle will have to be earmarked for them.
The decision to build custom software or go for a COTS implementation would usually rest on one or more of the following factors:
- Finances - both cost and benefit: The upfront license cost for COTS products mean that a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the business case needs to be done. However it is widely known that large custom software projects cannot fix all three of scope, time/cost and quality constant, so either the cost or the benefits of a custom software project will be subject to some degree of uncertainty - even disregarding the uncertainty around the business benefits of a feature that is successfully implemented.
- Supplier - In the case of COTS, is the supplier likely to remain in business long, and will there be adequate support and customization available? Alternatively, will there be a realistic possibility of getting support and customization from third parties? In the case of custom software, software development may be outsourced or done in-house. If it is outsourced, the question is: is the supplier reputable, and do they have a good track record?
- Time to market: COTS products usually have a quicker time to market
- Size of implementation: COTS comes with standardization of business processes and reporting. For a global or national organization, these can bring in gains in cost savings, efficiency and productivity, if the branch offices are all willing and able to use the same COTS without heavy customizations (which is not always a given).
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F.A.Q about Custom Software Development
Why is custom software such a large investment?
Building a custom web application is a time-consuming endeavor. It takes time to learn the processes of your business, to gather requirements, to flesh out your needs, and to build the software. Put simply, time is money.
While it’s a large investment, by investing in custom software, you’ll own the code instead of having a long-term licensing agreement with another software company.
How could my business benefit from custom software?
A custom business software solution increases process efficiency through process automation. When business processes are properly automated, they minimize the waste in time and resources that the original processes contained.
Think of it this way: with software that already exists, you have to modify your process to meet software capabilities. With custom software, you can build a system around the existing processes you have in place. You took a lot of time to develop those processes, so why should you revamp your business?
What is IP and how important is it that I own it?
IP stands for Intellectual Property. When you deal with anything creative, you have to think about copyright and the intellectual property on that work and that includes the creation of software code.
This gets back to the question of buying vs. building. If there is an existing solution that can suit your needs just fine, then it makes sense to buy, but the software developer owns the code and you are basically licensing the software from there. However, if you need a specialized solution that is customized to your needs and decide to go the custom development route, then the question of who owns the code is an important one.
I’m thinking about hiring someone offshore; what should I watch out for?
In short, everything. Language barriers and lack of proximity lead to breakdowns in communication and quality. Do yourself a favor and stay local.
On a related note, if you’re thinking about hiring for the position internally, think about this: it takes around three people to complete a successful custom software project. If you hire someone internally, their salary might cost what it would take to build with us, and you get a whole team when you work with us. Plus, if your software developer decides to leave, they take their knowledge with them. If one of our team members leave, our whole team shares the knowledge so you’re not left in the dark.
If things don’t go well, am I sunk?
We make communication and transparency are top priorities so this doesn’t happen. Right out of the gate we work hard to make sure that not only the project is a good fit, but the relationship with the client is as well. Through each step of the process and the build, we keep you in the loop weekly so you know what to expect and what is happening, but a good development company should have places in their process/relationship where you can cleanly exit. Make sure you know what the process is for leaving and what those different ‘leaving’ options are.