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The temptation to develop custom software for one’s business can be great. There’s a certain prestige that comes with being able to say, “We’re investing in custom software development. Our company NEEDS it.” Saying you NEED custom business application development for internal use or custom web application development for your clients is announcing to the world, “We have arrived! We’re growing! We’re special!”
Many businesses also think custom application development is going to be the magic pill that solves all their operational pain points. But that myth isn’t always realized – or it may come at too high of a price when a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution would have worked just as well.
And how do you know your business is ready for this step?
These are the questions to ask yourself as you consider your options:
If you answered yes, it may be worth looking into customized software development. Industries such as finance, real estate, healthcare, education, e-commerce, and retail, to name some of the most notable examples, deal with personal and financial data on a regular basis. If this information got into the wrong hands, it could turn people’s lives (or at least their credit scores) upside down. If you are subject to special regulations and to a higher-than-usual expectation of security and privacy from your clients, then custom software development services could be right for your company. Many of the security breaches that happen are the result of hackers taking advantage of known weaknesses in off-the-shelf software. Customized software development can help address your security concerns – if you choose the right developers to create your software.
Construction, education, healthcare, retail, and large-scale food service and catering companies tend to require more customized application development, because they have specific needs that are usually outside the scope of COTS programs. For example, in service sectors such as construction and food service, these companies have to coordinate multiple moving parts to complete a bid or a job. They also have to be able to communicate bid and invoice information with clients. To do something like that effectively would require multiple COTS programs: one for spreadsheets or databases, a word processing program for writing bids and invoices, an invoicing or bookkeeping program to manage payments, and possibly an internal project management program. There would be a lot of cutting and pasting between programs, too, since these kinds of programs usually aren’t integrated with each other. Developing customized applications in house or hiring developers to build customized software can ultimately save frustration, time, and money, because you’ll be able to operate on a much more efficient level. If you or your customers have needs that existing software can’t meet, it’s time to shop around for custom software development.
This one might surprise you. Yes, custom business application development can be expensive. However, software licensing fees can be expensive, too, if you have a medium- or large-size business. And custom web application and software development doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many ways to build the applications and services you need without breaking the bank. If you find a reputable consulting company with experience in your industry, their experience should make for a better, smoother development process. They may also be able to offer you different options for working together. Can you work on the software application development in stages and pay as you go? Is there a way for you and your team to work on part of the application and for the consulting company to fill in the gaps or finish the software for you? Shop around and compare real start-up costs before thinking custom software development is out of your reach. If COTS programs really aren’t meeting your needs, look into customized applications.
Off-the-shelf programs rarely integrate with each other. If integration with existing software is important to you, keep custom software development on the table.
Speaking of trying to use different programs that don’t work well with each other, as a small business on a fixed budget, using workarounds to get through the day is fine for a while. It’s what so many of us have had to do in the beginning. However, as you grow and get busier, these workarounds are going to become more cumbersome and eat up more of your time. Chuck Cohn, CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors, writes in Forbes magazine about how he wishes he had turned to custom application development sooner for his tutoring business. They stuck with the status quo for so long before finally creating custom applications. The inefficiency of what they had been using was unmanageable. The great thing about custom software development is that it can be scaled up or down as needed, giving you more flexibility as you grow.
One great thing about custom business and web application development is that since you own the software, you can keep it around for as long as you like. You can update it as often as you need it to be updated. If you use COTS software, you’re at the whim of the company that builds the software. They could discontinue the software, require expensive upgrades with little or no warning, or go out of business. If any of these things happen, you will have to face spending more money to get the latest version or being forced to go without the application at all at some point if it stops working completely or isn’t compatible with newer computer systems. Custom software development alleviates the worry that the one program you rely on day-in and day-out will suddenly not be available anymore.
The takeaway is that if you work in a specialized industry, if your company fills a very specific niche, or if security is of high concern to you, then the more likely you are to find the right solution in custom software and application development. And when you’re ready to look for the right consultant to work with you, check out the RTS Labs post on Medium “Most Costly Business Mistake: 6 Red Flags to Look for When Vetting Consultants” to help guide your search.
Our Salesforce team has experience across a variety of market verticals including: