Custom Software Development verses Commercial off the Shelf (COTS)

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Custom Software Development or Off The Shelf?

If you are undertaking a software project, you are probably asking yourself if you need to make or buy your solutions. In larger enterprises you may be thinking about implementing something as big as an ERP systems or CRM, or as small as a client intake form or web portal. You ask, is there a commercial off the shelf (cots) software that will meet my needs, or do I need custom software development that will tailor make a solution to fit my needs perfectly?

Here are some things to consider when buying software.

Why use off the shelf software products?

  1. Fits a particular need. Oftentimes these are rather niche products that meet a particular need in your company or life.
  2. Can be cheap. For a few hundred dollars a month, you get access to a pretty robust system that will hopefully take care of 90% of your needs or more.
  3. Outsourced engineering. Other users test the products, and the SaaS company hires the developers to improve the product.
  4. Ready to use. These products come stocked with a lot of features to help your company down the road quickly. You have assurance that the software has everything you need because it is industry standard.

These apps are great tools, but they are not without their limitations:

  • Doesn’t fit perfectly. The issue with anything one-size-fits-all is that is doesn’t actually fit anyone well. Ever tried 3-4 different apps and all of them disappoint you?
  • Dev team doesn’t hear your needs. Maybe you thought of an awesome product upgrade, but it doesn’t fit with the SaaS company’s plan and will never get made, or is buried under a stack of other requests. (Take a look at how our Client Empathy project helped a local software startup scale up and implement their solution all over the world, including in the Tesla factory and the largest mine in Chile.)
  • Can be incredibly expensive. Depending on the software you are using and the packages you need, subscription fees could be tens of thousands of dollars a year.

When do you need custom software development?

  1. Avoid annoying workarounds. Nobody wants to spend hours struggling with tasks they know could be done in minutes with the right custom software. (You can see one of our projects automating a manual data handling process for a Fortune 500 Fintech company here.)
  2. You are an innovator. You have an idea that will set you apart from your competition and launch you to the top of your industry. In this case, the custom software is an essential piece of the puzzle that you cannot find in a boxed up solution.
  3. Particular functionality. You have specific needs that no SaaS product solves, or your needs are so complex that no off the shelf product will ever meet your exact needs.
  4. Get support NOW. When you work with an engineering team, they want to hear YOUR needs. Their support hours go towards what YOU want, not the other 20k users. When you buy custom software development, you are buying dedicated time and attention with engineers.
  5. Scaleability. As you grow, your software needs to grow with you to capture the changes in your business needs a logic. Off the shelf solutions are one-size-fits all. Maybe they have all the features you need, but maybe you need custom software that designed to grow with you.
  6. Buy instead of rent. Custom software is something you own. You can turn around and sell it if you want, or charge people to use it.
  7. Avoid user fees. Although SaaS products can be cheap, usually they hold back the biggest benefits for high dollar monthly packages, and sometimes paying those just doesn’t make sense. Some products end up costing thousands a month, so you end up with a rent or buy decision.

Custom software isn’t right for everyone

You should look into off the shelf solutions to your problems and see if the solution is out there for cheap! Some problems have already been solved if you just look for them. So do your due diligence before investing.

If you are ready for help with custom software development and are looking for a partner, you can see our 5-star client reviews on GoodFirms and under our Google reviews.

The upfront investment is typically higher with custom work, but you have to think about 2 things:

  • If you are paying thousands a month in licenses, how soon until you have paid more than the 1 time investment of custom work.
  • Custom software is able to unlock ROI that SaaS products are not able to because IT IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED.

At Level 12, we balance the custom work with cost mindfulness through iterative software development. We are able to build exactly what you need while controlling costs by building the most important functionality and only adding features as warranted by the users.

For examples of some of our custom software projects, take a look at our projects page. We are proud that our development efforts have landed us among the top Software Development Companies recognized on DesignRush.

If you are ready to start a custom software development project, contact us for a free estimate.

Originally published on 2020-04-07 by Royce Hall

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