One Size Doesn’t Fit All: The Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom Software Debate

March 01, 2024

Blog Post

If you have any questions or need more info, let's have a conversation. Schedule one here.

In this article:

Have you ever installed a tool, believing it would solve your problems, only to find it cumbersome to configure or inadequate for your specific needs?

The Off-the-Shelf Approach and Our Philosophy

Off-the-shelf software often adopts a one-size-fits-all approach. Examples include widely-used tools like SAP for enterprise resource planning, Salesforce for customer relationship management, or WordPress for website creation. While solutions of this nature can be suitable for certain scenarios, they frequently fall short when your requirements or pain points are unique.

That’s not to dismiss the utility of off-the-shelf solutions. In many cases, a pre-built product can address your needs at a fraction of the cost of a custom solution. When we engage with clients, our initial step involves domain research to identify existing products that could be leveraged. In fact, during our introductory calls to discuss high-level requirements, we sometimes find that an off-the-shelf product is the most suitable solution for the company in question. In such cases, we guide them towards making that purchase, underscoring our commitment to providing the most effective and efficient solutions.

Why Custom Software Solutions Are Often the Best Fit

Website design sketches on paper

However, there are numerous situations where a bespoke approach is more appropriate. Tailored software can offer a plethora of advantages, such as accommodating unique workflows, meeting industry-specific compliance standards, and optimising for high-volume usage. Importantly, the software adapts around your business requirements, not the other way around. It can also provide custom dashboards, seamless integration with existing or legacy systems, competitive differentiation, and a user interface tailored to your team’s needs. Essentially, you get exactly what your business requires, without the extra bells and whistles.

The Tailor Analogy: Why Bespoke Software Often Fits Best

Imagine buying clothes. Off-the-shelf garments, much like commercial software, are designed to fit a broad range of people. They’re convenient and get the job done for the majority. However, they won’t fit everyone perfectly. Just as you might need a cuff on a pair of trousers or a jacket tailored to your exact measurements, off-the-shelf software often requires modifications to be a perfect fit for your business.

Male tailor works on elegant business suit

In such cases, just as a tailor would, we can customise or enhance existing solutions to better suit your specific needs. This could involve minor adjustments, such as adding a new feature or integrating with another tool, to ensure a snug fit. This is akin to the tailor making minor adjustments to an off-the-rack garment, like shortening sleeves or taking in a waistline.

Moreover, just as a skilled tailor can advise you on how to mix and match your existing wardrobe to create fresh looks, we can help you leverage your existing systems to optimise your business processes. By seamlessly integrating new solutions with your current software infrastructure, we can breathe new life into your established practices, making them more efficient and effective.

And then there are those situations where only a made-to-measure suit will do. If your business has highly unique requirements, or you’re looking for a competitive edge that off-the-shelf software can’t provide, we can craft software that fits your business as perfectly as a custom-tailored suit. From the initial consultation to the final stitch, or in our case, line of code, everything is designed with your specific measurements and preferences in mind.

Real-World Applications: The Proof is in the Pudding

Person drawing a wooden table design

Take our recent website overhaul as an example. While many businesses benefit from Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress, our technical orientation led us to seek specific advantages not commonly sought by most companies. We wanted the freedom to make precise changes, run rapid tests, and optimise delivery speeds. We also aimed for cost-effectiveness tailored to our use case.

Consequently, we opted to forgo a CMS, a decision that necessitates a more technical approach to content management. This strategy aligns with our specific needs and offers us maximum value. While it may not be suitable for every client, it’s not off the table either.

This exemplifies the value of a tailored approach: finding the solution that best fits the business and the situation in each unique case.

Cost and Technical Considerations

Computer screen with programming code

It’s a misconception that custom solutions are always more expensive. For instance, the investment in our website would have been comparable had we used a CMS, but we now enjoy greater hosting flexibility, reducing our running costs.

Platforms like Microsoft’s Power Platform offer a robust foundation for custom development, significantly reducing the overhead. Within the Power Platform suite, you can use Power Apps for application development, Power Automate for workflow automation, and Power BI for business analytics. These tools streamline the development process, making it more cost-effective. Moreover, Power Automate’s capabilities extend into the realm of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), allowing for further automation and efficiency gains.

Control over data is another crucial benefit of custom software. Off-the-shelf SaaS products often limit your control over data storage and management as the supplier controls the how and where data is stored and the architecture of the application. For example, we developed our own code backup solution to ensure business continuity while retaining full control over our data and security. This required an upfront investment but pays off in the long term through reduced hosting costs and enhanced data control.

Our Deep-Dive Workshop and How We Strike a Balance

Team of people looking at a computer with business information

In our workshops, we focus on gathering comprehensive information to understand the full scope of your business challenges. Often, very specific requirements or integrations necessitate a custom solution. It is important to note that code is a tool, not the goal. Our ultimate aim is to solve your business pain points or challenges. With this philosophy, we write only the code that adds tangible value, avoiding coding for its own sake. We leverage off-the-shelf software where possible, as illustrated in our recent case study on automating our recruitment process. Recently, we tackled the challenge of modernising a large monolithic application to enhance its maintainability and reduce hosting costs. Among the options we explored was a transition to a microservices architecture. To ensure we were on the right track, we sought expertise and had discussions with Sam Newman, a renowned authority in the microservices field and author of the book “Monolith to Microservices.” What struck a chord with us was Newman’s philosophy, which aligns with our own: despite the allure of specialised tools like microservices, they are not a universal solution. The primary focus should always be on accurately identifying the problem at hand and selecting the most effective method to resolve it.

Conclusion and Next Steps

In conclusion, the choice between off-the-shelf and tailored software solutions isn’t always straightforward. Each has its merits and drawbacks, and the best choice often depends on your specific business needs, challenges, and long-term goals. That’s precisely what we aim to discover in our introductory calls, which typically last between 15 to 30 minutes. During this initial conversation, we assess whether a custom software solution is the right fit for your situation. If it is, we proceed to a more in-depth exploration of your requirements and subsequently outline a detailed proposal tailored to your needs.

If you’re grappling with software challenges and are unsure which path to take, we invite you to set up an introductory call with us. Let’s discuss how we can help you make the most informed decision, whether it’s leveraging existing solutions or crafting a bespoke software package that perfectly aligns with your business objectives.

Headquartered in Europe, Cleverbit Software is a prominent custom software development company, employing over 70 skilled professionals across the EU, UK and US. Specialising in custom software for business efficiency, we work with a diverse international clientele in various industries including banking and insurance, SaaS, and healthcare. Our commitment to solving problems and delivering solutions that work makes us a trusted partner with our clients.

Would you like to discuss anything software?

Here's our email:
[email protected]

Here's our phone:
+356 2704 2495

or even easier,