Three Myths about Off-The-Shelf Software

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When business managers need to solve a technology problem, most of the time their first inclination is to try to find an off-the-shelf solution rather than hiring a custom software development company to build it for them.

The thinking, of course, is that off-the-shelf software costs less, carries less risk, and still provides most of the advantages of a custom software solution. There are a couple of reasons why this thinking isn’t always right:

Myth #1: Off-The-Shelf Always Costs Less than Custom Software

With modern rapid application development frameworks, custom software developers have more tools at their disposal than ever before. They can write software much faster, with far fewer errors, at a much lower cost than they could just a decade ago.  At the same time, many off-the-shelf products were built decades ago, using older technologies, and have yet to be re-written.

This means that it is incredibly expensive for vendors to maintain these products – which means they need to charge their customers a ton of money.  It’s not uncommon for us to see off-the-shelf enterprise software products costing $30,000 a month, or even $2 million a year, just for license fees.

When you look at what it costs us to design a custom system for our customers (which often can be for less than $30,000 total for the initial development phase), those costs start to seem ridiculous.

It is also important to remember that when you buy something off-the-shelf, you’re paying for 100% of the features in that product.  But what if you only need 30% of those features?  It is often much more cost effective to build a custom software application that provides just the features you need instead of paying for the ones you don’t.

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Myth #2: Off-The-Shelf is Less Risky than Custom Software

While it might seem logical to think that buying an off-the-shelf product is less risky than building something yourself, that isn’t always the case.  At Unstoppable Software, we hear countless stories from companies that bought products that didn’t work as expected. Most of them don’t realize their mistake until it’s much too late, and once they discover there are key features missing from their product — months or years later — they can’t make changes to the product themselves, because they don’t own the source code.  Which leaves their entire business at the mercy of the whims of the product developer.

This is a huge risk! What if that product developer doesn’t have adequate customer service?  What if they take away the features that are important to you, or can’t move fast enough to add the ones you really need?

What you really need is a design team that has excellent customer service, understands your vision, and can respond and make whatever changes you need as your business and market change.  To do this you need to own the source code, and you need to have a team you can count on to succeed, following a controlled, on-time and on-budget process that delivers speed to value without trying to do everything under the sun.  Buying off-the-shelf exposes you to more risk because you lose control while at the same time you lock yourself into one provider forever.

Myth #3: Off-The-Shelf Software Has All the Advantages of a Custom Solution

With an off-the-shelf solution, what you’re really buying is the lowest common denominator: the minimum that will be acceptable and usable to the greatest number of customers.  Believe us – we’ve developed many commercial software products in our day, and this is the #1 thing that a product manager looks at when adding in a feature – revenue potential.

But what if the features you need (to make your business really competitive and compelling) aren’t what your competitors want?  And even if they do want it, why would you want to share your business model innovations with all your competitors – yikes!!!

By adopting an off-the-shelf solution (if one even exists) to your problem, you’re forcing your company to operate at the lowest common denominator.  But what you should be doing is innovating and building on your company’s unique value proposition – which in the end should be reflected in the software you use to run your business.

The Bottom Line

Well-designed custom software will always outperform a generic off-the shelf solution. Your upfront costs will likely be higher, but in the long run you’ll save a lot of money through increased performance and lower maintenance costs. Custom software has the added advantage that you only pay for the features you really need, while avoiding paying for all the features you don’t. Custom software also protects your company’s proprietary secrets and helps you maintain competitive advantage, while the other guys join a race to the bottom. Finally, custom software gives you more control — YOU own the software, YOU decide when upgrades occur, and YOU decide what features stay and what features go.

To speak to us about custom software development for your organization, please fill out the form at the right of this page, and a software developer from our company will be in contact with you.

Sam Schutte
Sam Schutte

Sam is the founder of Unstoppable Software, and has his hands in all aspects of its operations and growth. He loves architecting software solutions to fit a specific business need and helping CIOs and other technology managers figure out their software development strategies.

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