The Most In-Depth Look at the Advantages and Disadvantages of Bespoke Software

Bespoke Software, Software Development | 0 comments | by Erin Quilliam

We have become dependant on software to carry out our business.

The solutions you use carry out vital business functions, so it is imperative that you have software in place that can support you and your work.

However not all software is made equal.

The predominant choice you have when acquiring new software for your business is whether to buy a commercial “off-the-shelf” solution or to develop a bespoke solution from scratch.

Off-the-shelf and bespoke vary in several ways, and may not be able to fulfil your needs depending on the choice you make.

To help you understand the implications of the choice, we will examine both bespoke software and off-the-shelf software in detail. 

In this article, I’ll be explaining the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke software. 

I’m going to be brutally honest with the topic and include points that I’ve not seen covered elsewhere on the web.

There will be an article about the advantages and disadvantages of off-the-shelf software in the coming weeks, so be sure to subscribe to the blog to know when it goes live.

what is bespoke softwareWhat is Bespoke Software?

Bespoke software is simply a software solution that has been built to an individual’s specific requirements.

It is built from the ground up entirely new, and to exactly meet your given requirements.

Bespoke software is often called “custom software” or “tailored software”, which helps the explanation. It’s completely custom made, and tailored to you. (Like a tailored suit, made for your exact measurements to fit only you.)

Read about what bespoke software is in more detail here.

The advantages and disadvantages of bespoke softwareThe Advantages and Disadvantages of Bespoke Software

Advantages of Bespoke SoftwareDisadvantages of Bespoke Software
  • Unique, individual solution
  • You control development time and pace
  • Return on investment
  • Competitive advantage
  • Better security
  • Scalable
  • Save time (better adapted to workflow, less training, more advanced, potential automation, etc)
  • Built to meet you and team so can make working easier, enjoyable, and increase morale
  • Better updates and support
  • Gradual production and upgrades
  • Better usability
  • Higher efficiency
  • Independence & complete control
  • Greater flexibility
  • Only pay for what you get
  • No compatibility or integration issues
  • The initial cost is high
  • Takes more time to develop
  • Off-the-shelf could do what you need (particularly if you’re a small business)
  • No existing product to trial
  • Existing users and support doesn’t exist (but the company should support you)
  • You will have to get stakeholders to buy-in The Advantages of Bespoke Software

What are the advantages of bespoke sofwareThe Advantages of Bespoke Software

The Most Exact Solution for Your Needs

This is because the software is built to your requirements, which means the product will exactly meet your specific needs.

This means that it will have all the functions you want, and you will not have to compromise or integrate with other solutions to carry out your work.

It Provides a Unique, Individual Solution

Because bespoke software is built from scratch to your requirements, it means you can create a unique solution.

Additionally, no-one else will own or use the solution (unless you decide to white-label it and sell it to others.) 

Competitive Advantage

As bespoke is unique to you, no-one else will have the software solution you are using. Whereas with commercial software, you and your competitors could all be using the same product.

This means that using a bespoke solution could provide you with a competitive edge over other businesses.

Only Pay for What You Get

With a commercial solution, there is every possibility you could have not all the features you need, or more than you use and find useful.

If there are too few features, you will have to integrate it with another solution or try to adapt the product to meet your needs. (Which isn’t always possible.)

If there are too many functions, this isn’t a bad thing. Unless the product becomes cumbersome and overcomplicated. This could confuse your users, and slow your work. Plus, with increased features comes increased cost.

With bespoke software, you only get the features you want. That’s as many or as few as you need, and what you see is what you get. 

You Control the Development Time and Pace

This is obviously within reason.

You can’t demand it be built in a shorter time than the developers say is possible.

However, if project timelines have some flexibility you can control. And if you wanted to extend the time, you can.

As the client, you have control over the pace of development.

You Can Eliminate Compatibility or Integration Issues

Because you are building the software from scratch, you can ensure that it is compatible with everything you currently use.

You can also stipulate in the requirements all the necessary file types you want the software to be compatible with.

Similarly, you can ensure that the software you are developing can integrate with any other systems you already use.

Bespoke Offers Better Security

Bespoke software can have superior security built-in.

Meanwhile, many commercial solutions require third-party products in order to maintain security levels.

Being able to ensure security is a priority from the design is a huge advantage.

This is now especially important in Europe, or companies handling data from European citizens, as “Privacy by Design” is a core principle of GDPR.

This simply calls for data protection to be included in the designing of systems, rather than a later addition. Which means if you are handling sensitive data, being able to create your own system implementing the most advanced security as the default for your software will stand you in good stead.

Bespoke Software Solutions are Easily Adaptable

With an off-the-shelf solution, it can be difficult to impossible to adapt the solution should your business needs change.

In addition, you will have no input in the future and development of the product.

However, bespoke software offers an alternative where you have ownership and agency over the product and how it is managed over time.

As the owner, you should also have the source code. This means that should you ever need to, you can make changes to your product without obstacle.

Control Over Updates

Because you own the software solution, you have complete control over the updates it undergoes over time.

This includes when the updates will take place, how frequently, and what is contained inside those updates.

This means you never run the risk of losing a core function as with commercial updates.

Never Lose Support

With commercial software, there comes the risk that the developer will one day stop supporting and developing the product.

After a few years, they discontinue support. Usually, because they have a more recent product that is more profitable for them.

It’s like when that smartphone you have stops being able to use apps because it’s too old.

People know it’s not in their interest to develop for certain devices and software after a length of time. So they stop bothering.

With a bespoke solution, you should have support for as long as you require.

But even if you don’t, you own the source code. Which means you can have in-house or hired developers to develop and support your software indefinitely.

Create Software That is Scalable

Because a bespoke software solution is easily adaptable, it will be easy to scale up or down should you need to.

Plus, you can ensure your software has the potential to scale up in the initial design and development. Meaning even if you don’t plan on growing initially, you’re set to do so when you want to. For example, you can integrate with cloud storage

Build Software That Saves You Time

Although bespoke software initially takes more time upfront to develop and set up, it has the potential to save you time in the long run.

Firstly, it can be created to complement or mimic your existing work process. This means that less training will be required for your staff to use the system, and it will be more efficient for your employees.

Secondly, as the system is more advanced and makes use of modern technology and skills, ensuring excellent performance.

Finally, there is the potential to include automation within the system.

This will further increase the efficiency and speed of work immensely. Not to mention, you can automate menial tasks, ensuring your employees can focus on the tasks that really matter.

Greater Efficiency

One of the ways bespoke software can help save time is by greater efficiency. This increased efficiency is twofold: the software itself, and how it’s used.

Firstly, the software will be built with the most advanced understanding of technology and understanding of the modern digital landscape. This means that the software itself will work efficiently and quickly.

Secondly, being bespoke and developed to meet your business’s process means the system can be developed in order to maximise efficiency when carrying out these business functions. (Think about the time-saving comments above.)

Return on Investment

Being able to save time long-term will translate into a significant return of investment, as the time can be better used to complete other tasks.

Additionally, having a superior solution with a competitive advantage is also a considerable benefit.

Bespoke software is also future-proofed by design, enabling you to have a longer-lasting system which will continue to work well for many years.

Bespoke Could Help Foster Better Working Life

As mentioned throughout, the software will be built to meet your needs. This means that you can take into account the requirements and desires of staff in order to make a solution that will empower them to work easily and efficiently.

Additionally, the work process can be designed to follow what is most logical for them. All of this in addition to advanced, fast-acting software will mean that working on the system certainly won’t be a chore.

This might seem small, but it hs the potential to uplift your employees and contribute to better morale in the workplace. 

Going bespoke benefits users with advantages such as better usability, gradual upgrades, and independence.

What are the disadvantages of bespoke softwareThe Disadvantages of Bespoke Software

The initial cost is high

The most obvious disadvantages to developing bespoke software is the cost.

Because the software solution is being built from scratch, it takes time and expertise to design and code a solution that meets your needs.

This means that the upfront cost can be very high. 

However, there are ways to manage or reduce costs.

This includes ensuring you work with a competitive development company, experimenting with timeframes, and developing gradually.

Additionally, remember that long-term costs will be lower. Therefore it is worth considering lifetime value rather than simply the upfront cost.

Takes time to develop

The second big disadvantage is that bespoke software will take far longer to implement than a commercial solution.

Much like the first disadvantage, this comes from the custom-built nature of the product.

Because the software is being designed and built for you from the ground up, it will obviously take a significant amount of time to create.

Then, it will need to be installed. (Although off-the-shelf solutions also require installation.)

If you’re happy to wait a few months for the perfect product, then this is obviously not an issue.

However, if there is an urgency to your need to replace your software then bespoke won’t be able to fulfil that.

Off-the-Shelf Could do Everything You Need

Off-the-shelf products are made for the mass market, so there is every chance it could have the features you want and more. Although there is the possibility it can lean too far that way, and you pay for an abundance of features you rarely use.

And like I mentioned above, you might struggle to find an off-the-shelf solution that does everything you need it to.

Yet, the point remains. A commercial solution could do everything you need from your new solution.

Small businesses especially might find all of their business functions and necessary requirements can be carried out with a pre-made product.

There is no Product to Trial, Reviews, or Previous User Experiences

This is often overlooked when people explain the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke software. Yet, I think it is important to consider.

As bespoke software is built from scratch, you can’t trial the software. Nor can you read reviews of the product, as it does not yet exist.

In the place of this, you should read reviews of the development company you are working with. If you can, try testing other software products they have made in the past.

Ultimately, you will have to trust that the developers you are working with can create stable software that is well-designed and robust.

That’s why it’s important to investigate the development companies you are considering working with.

Existing User Forums and Support Doesn’t Exist 

This disadvantage is in the same vein as the above. They are both caused by the bespoke nature of the product. 

Much like the fact that reviews do not exist, there is no existing user support or guides available. This means if you’re not sure of how something can be integrated, for example, you can’t access a forum of users to look up the answer.

However, the software has been tailor-made for you. Which means it is designed and built to work in the way you want. So hopefully all functions should make sense to you, and things like integrations will be built-in.

That being said, if you ever need support, the development company should provide it for you. 

I can’t speak for others, but IT Enterprise provides ongoing support to our clients. 

You will also own the code to the software, meaning you can carry out investigations, fixes and upgrades whenever you need to with developers of your choosing.

You Have to Get Stakeholders to Buy-in

Given the investment in a bespoke software solution, you will need to discuss the development with your stakeholders. Naturally, if you don’t have any then the decision is entirely yours, then you have nothing to be worried about.

You might need to discuss the purchasing decision with stakeholders even if you were purchasing an off-the-shelf solution. However, it is more likely to be made when developing a bespoke solution, as it requires significant time and financial investment upfront.

Additionally, these stakeholders will have requirements of their own they would expect the software to meet.

Is a bespoke software solution right for youHow to tell what is Right for You? Commercial or Bespoke Software?

As you can see, there are various advantages and disadvantages to bespoke software. You should review the key decisions that influence your purchase to understand whether commercial or bespoke is best for you. 

The three key influences will be cost, time, and features.

If you don’t have the time or budget to develop a bespoke solution, then that ultimately means you will have to settle for an off-the-shelf solution.

However if existing solutions simply do not have the functionality or features you require, then you will have to do some development work. Whether that is adapting an existing commercial software into a hybrid solution, or building your own bespoke solution.

That being said, there are ways to control the cost and time involved in creating custom software. 

If you need more specific examples of bespoke software production and the influence certain features will have on the cost, get in touch or book a free consultation. We’ll be able to provide you with exact details regarding your idea or project, and ways you can control the budget.

Additionally, if you have a feeling you want to develop a solution but want to test it before committing to the project, you can prototype it or develop an MVP.

Prototyping the software will provide you with a visual and functional model of your idea for you to test.

Alternatively, an MVP will constitute a fully-functional product you can use or sell, but with minimal features. 

Both prototyping and MVP development lets you trial your ideas and receive feedback from users quickly, without huge investment. 

Our conclusion on the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke softwareOur Conclusion on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Bespoke Software

Being able to understand the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke software will help you better understand if it is right for you. You can then compare it with off the shelf software for insight into which will be more suitable for you and your business.

As mentioned above, deciding if you should develop bespoke software is really a decision about if an off the shelf software solution can fulfil your needs or not. If you can’t find a solution to fit your requirements, then developing a unique software would be the logical next step. 

You can also discover the factors that will influence your software purchasing decision, and how bespoke and commercial software compare.

If you want to know more about what a bespoke software solution would look like for your business, book a free consultation with us. You can give us your conceptual ideas, or just a list of what you’d like, and we’ll discuss with you how it can be made into a feasible and functional reality.

Call +44 207 127 4304 or book your free consultation online.

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