Sometimes, off-the-shelf solutions are not going to work. When it comes to software decisions, if it is possible to get everything you need in a pre-packaged solution, then use it. However, it is rare that a one size fits all solution is the ideal choice for your unique business. Every organization is unique. It is in the uniqueness where the competitive advantage lies. You want to leverage this advantage against your competition and using off-the-shelf software isn’t going to get you there. If your competitors are using custom software solutions, you should be too.
The Benefits of Custom Software
Packaged software cannot by definition provide your organization with a competitive advantage, because your competitors will ultimately have access to the same packaged software that your do. Your competitive advantage, can reside in many different places in your organization. It could be your R&D, your manufacturing processes, your logistics, your customer service. It can be many different places. Wherever that competitive advantage resides, you should apply software to leverage this advantage as much as possible. Custom software solutions will best allow you to capture and sustain this advantage, and will also give you the ability to control the intellectual property associated with your competitive advantage.
Custom software solutions will meet 100% of your business requirements whereas packaged software may not cover the full range of software application in your business. Because every business is unique, you have to ask yourself, do we adapt to the software, or should the software adapt to us?
This is a special type of competitive advantage available to so called “first movers” - a distinct and special opportunity to garner the benefits of a new technology when it first enters the marketplace. The time between technologies moving from being revolutionary to commonplace gets shorter and shorter. Today there is probably a window of a couple of years. The packaged software providers are large, monolithic institutions that are going to lag in the adoption of new technology. If you wait for the packaged software to add the new technology, you will miss the window. Your only option is to go custom.
Mobile and the cloud are now seen as commonplace, everyday technologies, but 5 or 6 years ago, the strategic deployment of these technologies could give you a big leg up against your competition. Today technologies like Big Data, and the Internet of Things offer big benefits, but you will have to move fast, and you will have to follow the custom route.<?p>
Vendors are going to try to convince you of the seamlessness of their enterprise solutions. “Everything is easily integrated with everything else”, “our family of solutions talk to each other out of the box”, “the data flows from one solution to the other without virtually any intervention”. Don’t believe it – often the vision presented fails to mention that the software is a bunch of packages that were acquired through purchase and have been cobbled together in the most rudimentary of fashions. Different architectures, different data models, and different processes. Data is still often siloed - even packages from the same vendor do not always talk to each other, and integration tools provided by the vendor are often very basic.
There is no way around it – if you really want to avoid data silos and make sure that everyone in your organization has ready access to the information they need, you almost always have to build custom integrations between your applications. This is an area where the custom approach really shines – ironically, the “data at your fingertips” promise of enterprise software can’t really be delivered without a strong assist from custom software.
If you’re developing software for resale, in the majority of cases you do not want to build it on top of a packaged software package. That would create licensing issues, would give you less flexibility, and would complicate maintenance. Packaged solutions can be very helpful in prototyping and building MVPs (Minimum Viable Products), but when you’re ready to build your real product, it’s best to create it in a fashion where you own the underlying intellectual property. The only way to accomplish this is through custom software. By the way, don’t kid yourself, packaged software still needs a lot of customization. They just call it different things – configuration, implementation, adaptation. Purchase any enterprise ERP, and try to get anything done out of the box – you won’t have a lot of success - they all require a team of skilled consultants to get them off the ground.
We are living in a golden age of packaged software, but there’s still a strong role for custom software in virtually every organization. Would I recommend building an ERP from scratch? A CRM? Of course not. But any CIO will tell you that custom software can often be your best friend.
The Essential Guide to Custom Software