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Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf Solutions: Pros and Cons

In today’s age of digital transformation, companies need exceptional software solutions to stand apart from the crowd. Whether it’s ERPs or CRMs, there are many options that they can use to their advantage to make their processes more efficient and win over more customers. 

Depending on their needs, sometimes off-the-shelf solutions do the trick while other times, something highly specialized is needed. However, deciding between these two approaches isn’t that straightforward, so we’ll try to make things a little simpler for you.

But before we dive into the actual meat of the matter, let’s begin by discussing what we actually mean by Custom Software and Off-the-shelf solutions.

What is Custom Software?

As the name implies, Custom software can refer to certain types of mobile and web applications that are made to order and designed to help a business achieve specific goals. They are not readily available online for you to buy, download, and deploy across your company.

If you need such a highly specialized solution, you’ll need to get in touch with a custom software development company like Intagleo Systems. They will carefully analyze and understand your particular needs and requirements and propose optimal features and implementation strategies to best address them.

What is Off-the-shelf Software?

Off-the-shelf or Generic applications, on the other hand, are readymade, making them suitable for quick deployment and immediate use. Unlike custom solutions, they address relatively general business problems and are thus targeted towards a wider audience of business and individual users.

Off-the-shelf software can have multiple editions, providing prospective users some semblance of flexibility by allowing them to choose between price and feature sets. However, customization is also possible in some cases.

Some notable off-the-shelf software solutions include Microsoft Office, Salesforce CRM, Quickbooks, SAP ERP, etc.

With formal definitions out of the way, let’s get into the pros and cons of Custom and Off-the-shelf Software development before we decipher which option would be best for you.

Benefits of Custom Software Development

Custom Software Meets Your Exact Business Needs

Perhaps the most obvious and primary reason why most businesses opt for custom software is that it’s tailor-made to their precise requirements and specifications. The granular control custom development affords you allows finished products to seamlessly integrate with your existing systems, processes, and workflows without any disruptions or alterations.

Moreover, if there are multiple stakeholders involved, finding an off-the-shelf solution that satisfies everyone can be tough. With bespoke solutions, the potential for customization and integration is virtually limitless, and you can, in all likelihood, have them developed in a way that satisfies all your users.

Custom Software Is More Scalable and Future-proof

Given the dynamic nature of the current business landscape, the importance of solutions that can readily meet new challenges and opportunities can’t be stressed enough. Besides, external shocks, your organization’s internal needs will also evolve as you expand your workforce and add new processes, etc. 

Custom software development is inherently more responsive to all your ongoing business developments. Moreover, since you own the software, you are free to integrate and expand it with all the features and technologies you need to stay competitive.

Custom Software Development Helps Reduce Product Complexity

Developing custom software is not only about adding all the features you need but also about eliminating the ones you don’t. You can model your bespoke software after an existing solution, but remove all unnecessary or redundant features and screens that distract you and your team from the task at hand.

Trimming away all the fat can make your final solution less complicated and tedious, which in turn can help with its adoption across your organization.

You Have Complete Ownership of Your Bespoke Software Solution

Depending on your agreement with your software vendor, you can completely own the developed solution. This grants you an unprecedented amount of control over the software, how it’s used, and how it’s evolved. More importantly, you don’t have to worry about a third-party changing the terms of your relation, forcing you to upgrade, or simply ending support for your solution altogether. Also, no pesky licensing fees or hidden costs.

Custom Software Provides You A Distinct Edge Over Competitors

A solution designed to address a unique business challenge or problem should practically give you more mileage in terms of performance, operational cost-saving, or both when compared to its generic, unoptimized counterpart. Further, since only you have access to your custom solution, your competition would likely have to resort to an off-the-shelf solution or play catch-up by developing a custom solution of their own.

Your Custom Solution Can Become A Business Opportunity

However, the applications of custom software development don’t have to be just limited to improving your internal processes. Chances are the specific problems you’re trying to address may apply to other companies as well. In fact, many of them would attest that their generic application doesn’t adequately meet their needs. This presents an excellent opportunity for you to swoop in with your bespoke solution and save the day. Selling your custom software to other companies in need will help you expand your business and bolster revenue.

Risks of Custom Software Development

Initial Investment Costs Can Be High

While custom solutions will yield more ROI in the long run, the initial investment needed to bring them to life can be quite high. Unlike off-the-shelf solutions, where cost is generally divided over many users and recurring subscription payments, custom software is often developed for a limited number of users to achieve a specific purpose. Costs can also vary depending on the scope of the project and the complexity of the technologies involved.  

Developing Software From Scratch Takes Time

Since custom solutions are developed from scratch, they can take several grueling months or even years to build, depending on their size, scope, and complexity. If you need to deploy a solution the next day, going custom will neither be practical nor advisable.

Advantages of Off-the-shelf Software

Lower Upfront Costs

Off-the-shelf software solutions often come with affordable pricing models, particularly since they’re mass-produced for a wider audience, and the cost of development doesn’t have to be borne by a single individual or company.

Easily to Acquire and Deploy

Another apparent advantage of generic software is that it’s readily available, and you can have it up and running across your organization in a matter of days. You simply need to visit your desired vendor and choose the software edition/pricing plan that best meets your requirements. 

Better Community Support

Similar to custom software developers, off-the-self vendors also provide extensive ongoing support options. However, these are often easily supplemented by help from the online user community in the case of the latter if adoption is plentiful. You can, thus, easily look up solutions to any problems you might encounter when using your generic application as other users might have already encountered and resolved them.

Entails Fewer Risks

Since they cater to a bigger audience, you can quickly get an idea of how well an off-the-shelf solution would perform by looking up online user and expert reviews and following community forums and even social media. Additionally, most off-the-shelf solution providers also offer free limited-time demos and trials, so you can try out their solutions before actually buying them.

Disadvantages of Off-the-Shelf Software

Off-the-shelf Solutions Are Not Optimized For Your Systems and Processes

Since an off-the-shelf solution is designed to cater to the needs of the many, its given number of tiers may not fully satisfy your particular demands. Moreover, besides missing features, generic software may alternatively include redundant features that can hinder productivity, make adoption difficult, and use up system resources.

Consequently, you may require multiple software solutions or extensive customization to really get the results you need, and both of these can be consuming in terms of time and money.

Licensing fees and Ongoing Costs

While off-the-shelf solutions are cheaper upfront, you can rack up quite a bill as you continue using them. Obviously, there are licensing and subscription fees involved since you don’t exactly own the product, but you may also have to dish out extra for ongoing support and maintenance. Also, since many companies charge per user, you may have to pay up even more in recurring fees as you scale.

Other ‘hidden’ costs you might incur are associated with training your staff, so they’re able to use the software effectively. Additionally, if the software comes bundled with features you don’t even need, you’re still essentially paying for them.

Software Customization and Integration May Not Be Feasible

Most off-the-shelf software is built to be used as-is, and their vendors often don’t cater to customization and integration requests, to begin with. Even if customization is possible, it’s accompanied by a hefty price tag, which at times can even negate the savings you get by opting for a general solution in the first place.

As a result, an off-the-shelf solution can have a hard time keeping up with your evolving needs, making you more susceptible to new threats and more likely to miss out on new opportunities.

Generic Applications Offer No Competitive Advantage

Simply put, if it’s available off-the-shelf, it’s available to all your competitors. This way there’s little room for innovation, and everyone’s familiar with your capabilities and limitations and vice versa. Even if a really innovative and disruptive, generic solution hits the market, the playing ground is still fairly even as every one can readily implement it.

Custom or Off-the-shelf Software: What To Do Next?

Now that you’ve wisened up about the merits and demerits of both custom and off-the-shelf software, you need to understand there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for making the right choice, but a little soul searching always helps. Here are a few next steps you should consider.

What Are Your Exact Needs?

Start by carefully assessing your needs and challenges, and whether you can meet them with a readily available solution. If you’re already using an off-the-shelf solution but not pleased with its performance, you can look into other generic alternatives before turning to a full-blown custom solution.

Time and Money

Another important thing you should evaluate are your finances as well as how urgently you need to address the problem at hand. When thinking about money, evaluate the overall opportunity costs associated with each possible option at your disposal. Factor in the gains you stand to make by quickly deploying off-the-shelf software instead of waiting to develop a custom one. Consider the dividends an optimized bespoke solution would pay over a general software with subscription charges in the long run.

Involvement and Control

Lastly, consider how much control you want to exercise over your software along with how much time and effort you’re willing to put into its development and evolution. Is owning the solution important to you, or would you like someone else to worry about that entirely?

Gave it a thought? Now, here’s what might be a better choice based on your answers.

When To Choose Custom Software Development Over Generic Off-the-shelf Solutions?

To sum it up, you should go the custom route if you:

  • Have specific requirements, and no off-the-shelf solution can sufficiently satisfy them.
  • Want to streamline your processes and stand out from your competition.
  • Want to leverage custom software to generate revenue.
  • Require a solution that should perfectly cater to your current and future needs.
  • Would like to exercise more control over how the solution is developed, maintained, and upgraded over time.
  • Have the budget to meet upfront costs as well as the time needed for development.

You should choose an off-the-shelf solution if:

  • It adequately addresses your business problem at hand.
  • You are strapped for cash and need to address your business problem urgently.


If you’re still having trouble deciding, let our experts help you out. Alternatively, if you need assistance developing custom enterprise software, we’ve got you covered on that front as well. Intagleo Systems is a Professional Services firm with over 15 years in Bespoke Solutions Development. Contact us today to learn how we can turn your big idea into reality.

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