Bespoke software vs off-the-shelf

Your company needs new software. What do you choose: tailor-made software or an off-the-shelf solution?

It’s an important question. Software is pivotal to the functioning of an organisation in the digital age - it can make or break a business. 

How do you know what’s best for you? What should you take into account before making the decision?

We’ve put together a list of the pros, cons and myths of bespoke software and off the shelf solutions to help you make your decision a little bit easier.

Bespoke Software


Greater flexibility for long-term decision making 

Tailored software is your software. You have control over what it does and how it does it. The software can be built to your specific needs and can adapt with you as your business changes. 

Potentially provides a competitive advantage 

One of the problems with solutions on the market is the fact that they're available to everyone on the market. It is difficult for your business to do better if you're organised around the same technologies as everyone else.
Your tailored solution may be unique in the market and enable you to conduct business operations in a way superior to all of your competitors.  It could enable you to do what you do best, better.
You may even be able to license it or develop it as a joint venture.


Higher upfront costs
A tailored solution costs a lot more upfront than many off-the-shelf solutions. This may push this option out of reach for some businesses who don’t have the funding necessary to invest in a tailored solution.

It could make you dependent upon the software provider

Not everyone has the in-house technical expertise to develop their own software solution so going to a firm may be your only option. If all of your technical expertise is outsourced, it may make you overly reliant on upon them, which increases risk to the business. Not all software development firms are created equally, so when it comes to making a financial decision like this, make sure you are comfortable with your future-partners and their track record. Governance methods, how they architect software and the commitments to maintenance post deployment should be discussed. If your plan involves bringing updates and maintenance in house in the future, this should also be evaluated in your budget and discussed with your provider.


Lack of ROI

Anything that’s made to the specific needs of an individual or organisation has been built to augment and make up for the shortcomings. These benefits can compound, and as mentioned above, may be a source of competitive advantage. 

It takes a long time before you see results

Many software developers operate using agile methodology. The time taken to see results can range from weeks to months depending on the size of the development, but in many cases it’s not unusual to have results within a few weeks.

Off-the-shelf Software


Start using it sooner

Off-the-shelf solutions are already built, you just need to configure them and start using them. You can get started within days or weeks, rather than months.

No high up-front costs

Licensing software is never as expensive as building it. The regular billing cycles makes the accounting easier as well.


It will never be as good and may not meet all of your requirements

Any off the shelf solution will never do exactly what you need it to in the way that you want it to. You will have to adapt some of your procedures to work in accordance with the software.

No long-term flexibility

An off the solution may be suited to your organisation at the moment, but in a few years time you may have either outgrown it or require specific features which just aren’t offered . You may find that you will need to find an alternative sooner rather than later.

You’ll be at the whims of their support staff

If an issue critical issue arises and you require help from the software provider, getting that help in a timely fashion could be an issue, especially for larger providers. If the software is critical to your ongoing success, this might be something you’d want to avoid at all costs.  


It’s immediate
Unfortunately, this is just not true. It takes time to configure and migrate data from one platform to another, and the organisational resistance to change may be higher for products that are not built "just for" your team.

Cheaper overall

While off-the-shelf solutions are generally cheaper to implement, it is important to note that costs musts be viewed in the context of returns. Bespoke applications are more finely tuned to specific business processes, and tend to deliver operational savings and revenue opportunities that exceed off-the-shelf alternatives. In some cases, it will be "cheaper" to build your own solution in the long run.

It’s just as good as bespoke

There’s nothing better than something tailored to your specific needs. Just like with clothes (no two people being the same) no two businesses are alike either.


There’s no right option when it comes to selecting a solution for your company. It’s important to take time, identify exactly what you need from a solution, look at what already exists in the market, and try and anticipate what you might need a few years down the track.

Tags: Software Development, Agile, Original


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