As businesses change and grow, so too do their need for computer software that can grow with them and accommodate the changing business landscape.
Just like any other business tool, software is prone to becoming old and outdated if the requirements of the business outstrip the capability of the existing system. This can result in a frustrating lack of speed, control, and functionality that can have a knock-on effect on project deadlines and hinder overall business performance.
However, once the solution is identified and the decision is made to invest in new software, there is still the question of “what type of software is best for us?” The choice lies between two main software paths, custom software development – a bespoke system designed specifically around the needs of your company – or a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) system; which is a market-ready solution that offers limited or no custom functionality, but is immediately accessible.
However, it’s not always clear what the differences are between these two software paths. Furthermore, while good COTS systems can be fairly expensive and incur ongoing costs, bespoke software, after the initial investment, can actually turn out to be cheaper in the long run!
Here, we’ve put together five helpful reasons why we believe custom software development has the edge over COTS platforms.
A good example of custom software development vs a COTS system is the process you go through when shopping for a suit. In this analogy, custom software is similar to having a tailored suit – it’s made from agreed fabrics and fits perfectly. Whereas COTS software is similar to an off-the-rack suit – it’s a mass-produced item that comes in standard sizes, rarely fits perfectly and may not fare well over time.
Whilst a COTS solution might be quicker to implement, it’s also likely to provide a limited solution to your problem, or force some change in your business adminstration to shoehorn COTS features to your existing working methodology.
Custom software, on the other hand will, by definition, be designed to fit perfectly around the way your business works, your existing business structure and usage scenario – which in the long term is probably more beneficial than the initial speed of deployment.
You might think that COTS software is secure, but the reality is that widely used software is often a prime target for hackers. A weakness discovered in COTS products is valuable because it can be used in the commission of many crimes. As a result, the more widely used a program is, the more attention it draws.
Bespoke software generally gets less attention because no one knows the source code outside of the developers themselves. However, this does not necessarily make it more secure, as most software today is built upon widely used technology that presents a potential path for the determined hacker.
Blueberry consequently factors in security from the beginning of a project, implementing secure development techniques such as ‘hashing and salting’ to reduce security breaches and protect access control.
Because COTS software is built for the mass market, it can be inherently inflexible when customisation is desired. As a result, it’s quite common for third-party applications to appear and offer plugin functionality for more niche business processes, or for integrations with complementing software platforms. However, if there’s no third-party plugin to address your specific problem, then you’re stuck.
Custom software doesn’t have this problem, as changes to the original brief can be factored in during the initial stages of development, or picked up at a later point in time. In addition, because your vendor will already be familiar with your code, the time to implementation will be relatively quick.
COTS software is only as good as it’s latest iteration (need we mention Windows 8 or Vista?). Typically, mass market vendors will tend to make broad stroke decisions regarding the evolution of their software, which can be user interface (UI) design tweaks that alienate existing users, to puzzling restrictions in previously available functionality.
COTS software usually also makes heavy demands on the operating system, requiring the customer to have up-to-date hardware running the latest operating systems – which, for smaller to medium sized companies, isn’t always viable because of the large capital costs involved. In comparison, custom software is written to support the interface the client prefers, and optimise performance around the customer’s current or projected hardware needs.
Off-the-shelf software is essentially rented, not bought – especially with the trend towards software being made available through the cloud. However, should the supplier terminate the product or go bust, customers run the risk of being abandoned, which in turn jeopardises everything they do, and in some cases has led businesses to pay for extended support for an out-of-date system.
However, with a bespoke software development project, you would own the product entirely, and could decide how and where it should be implemented. So instead of paying for software per license, you pay for it’s development – allowing you to install it across as many PC’s or networks as you needed, without restriction! In addition, as a bespoke item, it will never get out-of-date until it stops doing the job you originally wanted it to do – so there’s no forced updating whilst you’re happy with the performance.
Did you enjoy our list? These are just some of the benefits of custom software over commercial-off-the-shelf software. Remember to check back for other articles on software development right here on the Blueberry blog!