Out-of-box vs. custom software solutions

Out of the Box vs. custom software solutions picture of puppy in a box
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You’re a business owner that needs to decide on a software solution. On one hand, you have the out-of-box solution — a commercial, ready made product targeted towards a wide range of clients. On the other hand, you have the custom solution — a specially made software that will meet a company’s unique needs.

It’s not an easy choice to make.

Both have benefits and pitfalls, which is why it’s valuable to assess the characteristics of your company before determining what software is the best fit. At the end of the day, the type of software your business chooses may be the perfect solution, or an expensive mistake.

Guidelines to follow

There are certain ground rules to look at when assessing compatibility. The following is a quick look at the best scenarios for using either out-of-box or custom solutions. If your project complies will all the listed scenarios, the indicated solution is probably right for you. Of course, there are many cases where this advice wouldn’t be applicable, so it’s best to take it with a grain of salt and make sure you completely understand your business before moving forward with a solution.

Comparison chart of Out-of-box solutions vs. custom software solutions

Once again, these guidelines are not written in stone. Often times there may be a situation where a certain solution is better even if it disagrees with the above scenarios. As you’ll quickly see, making an informed software decision will involve a thorough analysis of your needs. Let’s take a more in depth look at what questions your company needs to ask in order to pick the perfect software solution.

Who is the final user?

Start off by examining who will use the the software. Users have certain expectations when interacting with software, which means they’re the ones who should dictate which features are essential. Let’s assume for a moment that the software you require is for internal use and there is an existing out-of-box solution that covers a majority of the necessary features. In this case, complementing that solution with other tools or integrations might be a cost effective way of solving your business problem. That’s why pre-packaged project management softwares like Jira are a great fit for many companies, since they are aimed primarily at internal use and can be paired with tools like Excel or Slack. However, if you intend to use an out-of-box solution with a customer (external user), they won’t forgive a lack of key features.

Will software usage evolve or stay the same over time?

Consider whether the software is being built for a well-oiled machine or an evolving environment. If the solution you’re seeking is for an established and proven business process or a platform that you know your users won’t change regardless of the product, using an out-of-box solution is a better option.

Let’s illustrate this with a couple examples. Imagine that you need a place to follow your sales process from the moment you generate a lead to the moment you close a customer. Developing a custom tool for this would be a waste of money and time, when there are already multiple ready to use softwares on the market that cover this need. In another case, let’s assume that your product needs an online payment gateway. Developing that from scratch is a gigantic task, one that is probably not necessary when there exist comprehensive out-of-box payment systems.

However, if you are not clear on the direction that the product is going, custom software will provide the flexibility that you need. A common mistake is to think that users require all features to be there from day one. This is not true, as long as you cover the basic flow from start to finish, you can always add features and make changes along the way.

How is your user base going to scale?

Reflect on what components your software will require in the future. If you expect your user base to grow significantly, then a custom product might be a better option. The majority of out of the box solutions follow a revenue model that is usage-based, so the costs add up as the user base grows. Let’s take a look at mobile payment company Square. They charge a rate for each transaction and have additional services to purchase like invoices, charged per customer. As a user base scales, the fees can grow to exceed the costs of a custom solution. With custom software, the majority of the expenses are paid upfront so when a user base scales, it doesn’t affect your wallet.

Do you have any legacy systems in place?

Examine whether or not you have any legacy systems in place. Will you be dealing with data migration or building on top of existing software? With a custom solution, you will be able to smoothly interact with existing components. An out-of-box solution does not necessarily allow for that same unification, making it less ideal when a working with legacy systems. For instance, when dealing with an old or outdated enterprise resource management system, you can discover where the flaws are and build a custom solution to target those areas. An out-of-box solution simply cannot integrate that same way.

Now that you’ve looked into the past, consider the future. Is this current project your only need or is the plan to start with some initial software and then continue building additional components? It’s very common to see customers start with apps, then continue on to build websites and admin tools. It’s important to keep all these possible iterations in mind when deciding on a software solution.

How urgently do you need the software?

Think about how fast you need the solution. It will take a significant amount of time to build and implement custom software since it is a brand new solution that needs to be thought through, designed and developed. If time is a constraint, an out-of-box solution will be the better fit considering it is perfectly packaged for immediate use. However, if you know a custom solution is what you ultimately need, you can use an out-of-box solution temporarily and develop your custom tools in parallel. For example, if you have an immediate need for a functional website, a content management system like WordPress can be used as a temporarily fix while you build your own platform.

Who is going to maintain the software?

Understand that by using software, you’re becoming a digital company. You will require greater technical support to install and maintain many different types of software. If you don’t have the tech talent and are not prepared to hire an internal IT team, then an out-of-box software might be your only option. Given that it’s a ready made and unadaptable solution, no software skills are needed to build it into company practices. Take Squarespace, for example. The website hosting service features pre-built website templates that don’t require the expertise of developers. Custom solutions, however, demand technical upkeep and attention from a solid tech team.

It’s a difficult choice

Even with these guidelines, making a software choice for your business isn’t going to be easy. You don’t want to end up wasting money, and you definitely don’t want to end up with a software solution that doesn’t actually help you. The most important aspect is to spend time understanding the business problem that you are trying to solve and how you see this problem evolving in the near future. If you have a difficult software decision on your hands, chat with us. We’re always eager to talk about challenging projects and help you find the right path for your business.

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