The Right Pick: Off-The-Shelf Or Custom Software?

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Business owners often have a hard time deciding whether to buy a commercially available program for their organization or have custom software specially designed for them.

A custom, personalized, or bespoke software is one that is made to aid the specific needs of a business, created by in-house software developers or outsourced to third-party providers. Naturally, the cost for such software would differ.


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Off-the-Shelf, canned, or commercial software is one that’s sold or readily available to the public. There are free off-the-shelf programs with limited features, and there are those that require a subscription fee.

This kind of software can also be packaged, or different programs grouped under the same family to provide various tools for productivity, collaboration, messaging, conferencing, and many others. Microsoft Office and the tools Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other, can be considered as such.

Now that you can distinguish the differences between these two business software solutions, it’s time to discover which type will work best for your business: custom or off-the-shelf? Here are some factors to consider:



You can get a version of commercial software but with limited features for free. Premium features will naturally incur payment for subscription. These types of software can work for start-ups or small businesses, and they can readily pay for the full functionality once they feel the need for it.


Since custom software requires developers (whether in-house or outsourced) to address specific business needs, this can mean higher upfront costs. Aside from the people who will be working on it, you’d also need to take into account maintenance and cost of failure. However, it’s a good investment that can help bring you favorable results and gains in the future.

Availability and Timeliness


These are readily available as a download (for free versions) or commercially sold in stores, though it can take days before your employees can be well-versed in using it.


Custom software development—from knowing your business needs to discovering bugs before the launch—can take several months or even a year. This process can be hellish, and not a viable option if you’re pressed for time.



Since commercial software are offered publicly, it needs to cater to a wide audience with different requirements; therefore, its features will also vary. The downside is it can make the product more complicated than you need it to be, so your team may get on board with its functionalities a little later than what you prefer. In essence, they aren’t always user-friendly.


A custom software will not only be customized to address your business needs but can also be tailored to make it easy for your employees to use, depending on your team’s aptitude. Features can later be added and updated should your business require new functionalities.



Most SaaS solutions can be integrated with other tools, although with limitations. This is because they can come with API (application program interface) that serves as a connector between two programs and allows both to exchange information. This also entails that you do your research to know if both SaaS and third-party software are made with API.


Custom software can be designed by your developers to integrate with any software, specifically those that are currently in your infrastructure.



Full customer support comes with the paid version of SaaS solutions, but users of the free version can get their queries answered in community forums. If you need prompt action for your business, this may not be the best option.


However, for custom software, you can easily have your developers or third-party provider answer your needs. Bugs and errors can be fixed on the spot, and maintenance can be done routinely to ensure that problems are addressed before it even affects your processes.



Scalability, in this light, refers to the software’s capacity to adapt to your company’s growth, and with readily-made SaaS, new features and updates can be rolled out, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it would address your specific business needs that come with progress.


Naturally, a custom software program made for your company can be scaled up to include features that you would need as time passes. Once you experience growth, you can move on from the minimum requirements into bigger things.

Security and Intellectual Property


For off-the-shelf software, you don’t own the rights to the program. Plus, you share usage with other people and organizations. Therefore, it can be quite risky, and you can fall victim to hackers or any form of security breaches.


Custom software is unique to your business, and you own the intellectual property to it (if you tapped third-party developers, check your agreement with them first). You can only be in danger if your software is directly targeted, though you can easily have your team fix the problem or integrate a security solution before a threat comes in.

Competitive Advantage


Being commercially available (and sometimes, free) off-the-shelf software is also used by other organizations. Sharing the same solutions as your competition means having the same workflow and tools, which doesn’t give you the edge you need.


Since custom software is unique to you, you’re not sharing it with your competitors, giving you some advantage.

Picking the Right Choice

Streamlining processes within the company is essential to meeting your objectives, and you’ll need business software solutions to make this possible. These custom software programs can make complicated procedures simpler and in an automated manner. In addition, your employees can be more productive, turn over work with little to no errors, and perform tasks in no time.

Companies can implement their USPs into their custom software; however, it’s also true that the cost of off-the-shelf solutions is more favorable for small organizations. Working with both commercial and bespoke software is also possible.

In the end, the best solution will rely on the nature of your business, its unique needs, and the resources available to you. Carefully considering the aforementioned factors is vital to your company’s efficiency, productivity, and growth.

Off-The-Shelf Custom Software

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