The software marketplace offers a wide range of software products and services. It can be hard to decide on which one to choose: off-the-shelf vs bespoke? Your company’s choice of software is critical to your business’ performance and can have a major effect on your bottom line.
Off-the-shelf software is a product that is universally available with a comprehensive set of features that you pay a monthly or yearly fee to use. For example, here at Enable we have developed a rebate management SaaS (software as a service) platform which maximizes the performance of your B2B deals while improving financial transparency and operational efficiency.
Bespoke software is designed and built on demand with a specific purpose in mind for the organisation that has commissioned the build. Bespoke software solutions are always unique and specialized, they adapt to your existing business processes.
To avoid choosing the wrong solution, saving you both time and money, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages for both bespoke and off-the-shelf software solutions, specifically when it comes to rebate management.
Off-the-shelf software usually has a great deal of functionality as it’s designed to solve a specific challenge, e.g. rebate management. Most off-the-shelf solutions have been extensively tested and proved with a customer base of hundreds or thousands of users, which is hugely more cost effective. Even if you find your product is missing some specific functionality that you want, you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your software vendor as like us they may have a large team of Product Managers and Engineers working to deliver frequent enhancements to the product.
With bespoke software you can shape exactly what the product delivers. It’s built alongside your current processes. It’s previewed and tested by you, so if there is any aspect of the functionality that you don’t like, you can simply raise a request with the developer for it to be changed. Although you will spend a lot of time reviewing your specifications with your developer, you’ll often end up needing amendments later to address issues that only become apparent after a period of testing.
There is no off-the-shelf software that integrates with all the tools on the market, so you may have to compromise or look for workarounds for certain problems. However, the increasing prevalence of public APIs means integrating your team’s different software packages and departmental processes is easier than ever. Enable’s developer hub with complete API documentation can be found here.
Depending on the capability of your vendor, you can design your bespoke software to integrate with any software you want. Businesses of all sizes will understand the challenges of managing different data streams and silos. But bespoke integration can turn your biggest headache into an opportunity. System integration ensures that all of the software systems your business relies on function as efficiently as possible, with the potential to speed up manual tasks, prevent duplication of data and integrate data across multiple systems.
Off-the-shelf software has a lower upfront cost as you typically pay a monthly or yearly license fee to use it, rather than cover the costs of building it. This is because the cost for the development of an off-the-shelf product is effectively split across numerous buyers and the volume of licences sold. Typically, SaaS products will be built in such a way that scale easily and will offer different capability tiers to suit your business’ needs.
Bespoke software will generally cost more initially and take longer to implement, due to it being built from the ground up according to your unique specifications. Over time, you will usually only have to pay hosting fees rather than usage licenses. The result should be a system that complements your business perfectly at the point of delivery, but without further investment it may start to slow down as your business grows.
Training and support
A company will typically have been working on a piece of off-the-shelf software for a long time and as such there will likely be a greater wealth of support materials, such as user guides, help center articles, FAQs and an experienced support team on hand to offer training and any other help that may be required.
While your developer will usually hand over the bespoke software and provide initial training, it can be harder to get support down the road as there will likely not be a huge number of staff within the business (either internally or on the developer’s side) who are familiar with the software. The best bespoke software businesses will provide a “train the trainer” approach to software delivery.
Maintenance and updates
Off-the-shelf software doesn’t tend to be static, having a large clientele means the incentive to maintain and upgrade functionality is huge. Lots of software vendors like us tend to continuously incorporate customer feedback into their product roadmap. This is how we maximize customer satisfaction and ensure business success.
Most will deploy frequent updates offering new and improved functionality (for us, it’s every six weeks), which may open up new ways to tackle your business needs. Plus, some software vendors will have a support ticketing system so you can let them know if there are any pressing issues or if you discover a bug that needs attention.
Once the bespoke software is built, most of the project team is dispersed and reassigned to other projects. Even when that’s not the case, every advancement of the product is a mini project that can take time and money. Any upgrades and improvements will add extra costs that can be hard to forecast. Once User Acceptance Testing is complete, the developer has no incentive to work on the system without further investment and if the developer is not set up to last as a business then there is no guarantee they’ll be around in a few years, meaning you may ultimately have to look for another business to support the software. You should always ensure that your bespoke software provider supports code deposits or escrow arrangements.
Implementation and launch time
If you do not have a lot of time and you urgently need a solution, off-the-shelf software is much quicker to implement than having to wait for bespoke software to be built. Not only that, but you’ll often get access to a lot of features that are ready to utilize as soon as you need them. If you have found software from a recognized vendor that has repeatedly solved the problems of a business similar to yours, do not hesitate to order the ready product.
Since bespoke software is created from scratch, you will need to wait some time for your developers to build it, even if they’ve created similar software solutions before. You will also need to invest a lot of time in guiding the project in the right direction to achieve a solution that will work for your business. In the end, the wait time depends on the size and complexity of the bespoke software. If you’re working to a project deadline, it is wise to take into account how long the creation of your bespoke software will take, along with your vendor’s track record of delivering to agreed timescales. However, the software should help you and your company to save time in the long term.
Return on Investment
Because the launch is much faster, and you have plenty of support on hand to help, this means the value of the software is realised almost immediately. A typical time to achieve a positive ROI with our customers, for example, is three months or less.
The ROI will materialize only after the bespoke software has been built and successfully launched. Even then, the ROI will typically be realised slower due to the heavier up front costs. However, when the software integrated with your business, the time/human resource savings can quickly pay for themselves.
Advantages of “bespoke” software
No license costs
Lower up-front costs
Fully customizable solution
Easy to acquire, deploy and scale
Lower training costs
Unique to your business
Bespoke process integrations
Advantages of “Off the shelf” software
Feature rich, with continuous upgrades
Reflective of processes familiar to your staff
Reliability and stability, with greater support resource
Changes can be made quickly
Easier to budget for
Easier to orientate staff to the software
Should I opt for bespoke or off-the-shelf software?
Whatever type of software you lean towards, it would be useful to consider your organization’s processes, scalability and long and short-term goals before making the right choice for your business. Cost and functionality are definitely the most significant factors when choosing between approaches. If you can find off-the-shelf software that meets your business’ needs then this will typically be the simpler, more cost-effective solution. However, if you require software tailored to your business’ unique processes then you will want to consider if you are willing to pay more for a bespoke solution.