The Complete Advantages and Disadvantages of Off the Shelf Software

Software Development | 0 comments | by Erin Quilliam

Previously, I investigated the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke software in as much honesty and detail as possible.

Today, I’ll be giving commercial software solutions the same treatment and breaking down the advantages and disadvantages of off the shelf software.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of off the shelf software and comparing it to bespoke software will help you understand which software solution is right for you and your business.

This comparison is vital, as the software you use is often the backbone of your business. Without it, you simply couldn’t function. Which means it is vital to find the solution that meets your needs.

What is Off the Shelf Software-minWhat is Off the Shelf Software?

Off the Shelf Software, also called commercial software, is any kind of software solution that has been developed for the mass market.

It is a ready-made product that you can purchase.

This is in direct contrast to bespoke software, which is where the solution is custom-made for you.

Click here to find out more about how bespoke and off the shelf software compares.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Off the Shelf Software-minThe Advantages and Disadvantages of Off the Shelf Software

The Advantages of Off the Shelf SoftwareThe Disadvantages of Off the Shelf Software
  • Initially the cheaper option
  • Quick to implement
  • Can access reviews and advice from existing users 
  • There are pre-existing solutions
  • Updates usually included
  • Can offer you more functionality than you need 
  • Some have support included (but not all so remember to check)
  • Owned by someone else, so they foot the development/upgrade costs
  • Can be more expensive over time
  • Can be impossible or inflexible to change should you need it
  • You have no control 
  • May not be supported after time 
  • Upgrades can cost extra 
  • Too many features and functions 
  • Too few features and functions
  • May have integration issues 
  • Might not fit your work process

The Advantages of Off the Shelf Software-minThe Advantages of Off the Shelf Software

Initially the Cheaper Option

An off the shelf product is usually the cheapest way to purchase a new software solution.

This is because it is a pre-made product created for the mass-market. As it has already been developed and is purchased multiple times, the cost is therefore reduced as it is spread over many users.

Whereas bespoke software costs significantly more as the product is developed for the individual customer. It must be built from scratch, so the cost is high to cover the time and expertise taken in the development of the product.

Quick to Implement

Much like the above, this advantage comes from the fact the solution has already been developed. Because it is a pre-existing product, all you have to do is buy it and install it. You don’t have to wait for it to be created as you would with a bespoke solution.

In fact, the biggest wait time you will have is probably the time spent searching for the right solution that fulfils all of your requirements.

You Can Access Reviews and Advice from Existing Users

Because the product already exists, so do users.

And while the software is being used by other people, it means that you can get an understanding of how they are using the product and how they are finding it.

If there are common bugs these will be mentioned, and usually, a solution will exist in a forum. This means that if you encounter a problem you might find that it is easy to resolve yourself.

Additionally, the product being in use means that you can read the reviews from other users, giving you an insight into what it’s like to be working with the product day-to-day and if people find the product to be reliable, and good value for the money.

You Can Try Before You Buy

Again, this advantage stems from the fact that commercial software is pre-developed. This means that there is (usually) the ability to try before you buy.

Most solutions offer some form of trial, either free or discounted, making it easy to test the product for yourself and see how it fits in with your work process.

There are Pre-Existing Solutions

In most cases, you will find that there is pre-existing support available for software products. This could be anything from an FAQ list on their site, a user forum, or just a Q&A thread on Reddit.

As people are already using the solution, they and the vendor will be aware of some bugs or common issues and would have provided the solution. In this case, you can go into working with the software already informed about what to do in certain situations and the reassurance that you can find help when you need it.

Updates are Included

Due to the demands on off the shelf software, regular updates will need to be carried out.

These can range from general maintenance of the product to bug fixes, and even implementing new features.

Because the product is owned by a vendor, it’s their job to manage and carry out these updates. And as a user, you get to reap the rewards of these updates without lifting a finger or paying extra. It’s all part and parcel of the product you bought and it’s lifecycle.

Could Offer You More Features

As commercial software is made for the mass market, it has to be created with the functionality in place to please as many people as possible.

This means that when you take on an off the shelf solution, you could find that the product can do everything you need it to and more.

You can have too much of a good thing though, and equally, the software has every chance it might be missing features you want. This makes it important to do your research and make sure the solution is capable of meeting your needs.

Some Sort of Support will be Available

When you buy any software solution, be it commercial or bespoke, you should be offered some sort of support. With commercial software, this could be anywhere from online live chat, to email, or telephone communications.

Some products may limit support depending on the package you have purchased. For example, a basic product offers email and live chat, whereas the more expensive options include 24/7 calls and a dedicated agent.

Be sure to check what support is available, as it can vary. But you should have some.

And like I mentioned earlier, you will also have FAQs and user experience to inform you.

Upgrades are Paid for by Someone Else

Because you aren’t developing the software yourself, the cost of creating updates and upgrades or the solution will not be paid for by you. The cost of these additional developments will be paid for by the vendor.

It’s as simple as that. It’s not your responsibility to update the software. (It comes with a trade-off, though. I’ll talk about that below.)

The Disadvantages of Off the Shelf Software-minThe Disadvantages of Off the Shelf Software

Can Cost You More Over Time

The first problem with commercial software is that although it is the cheaper option initially, it can cost you more long-term. This is due to persistent fees for the use of the product such as licensing, and the cost of additional users.

Plus, additional features or differing versions of the software could carry additional costs.

This means that depending on how long you use the product for, and how many people are using it, it can cost you more than bespoke software in the end. This is why it is important to not only consider the startup costs for software but the lifetime cost.

Inflexible Product Where Change May be Impossible

Although the vendor may make changes to the software, you won’t be able to.

Sometimes you can hybridise a commercial solution, and develop it yourself to include new features or integration. But this is not always possible, and will obviously require hiring an experienced developer to help.

This means that if you want to make any changes of your own to the product, it might not be possible. In fact, even the initial developer may not make any changes to the software, and you’ll find you have an inflexible product that over time becomes outdated.

You Have no Control

Because you have not developed the software yourself, you do not own the product or the source code. This means that you have no input or control into any changes made to the product, for better or worse.

Ergo, the software could be changed in a way that does not suit you. Features that you like or even rely on may be removed. The best-case scenario is that upgrades and updates to the product benefit you, or make no difference to your experience using it.

Support May be Unavailable or Lost Over Time

Not every commercial software comes with support included. And as mentioned previously, the kind of support and its availability can vary or depend on how much you’re paying. Be sure to investigate what support is available for the package you want.

Additionally, just as upgrades can stop after a while, so too can support for the product. Meaning when problems occur, you will need to find a developer who can help you.

Upgrades Might Cost Extra

I mentioned this disadvantage of commercial software above. With off the shelf software, there may be different versions of the product, each with more features and a higher cost. Additionally, later upgrades to the product may be optional and carry an additional cost.

Furthermore, you might find you need to develop the product yourself. This will obviously carry a monetary and time cost for you.

Could be Oversaturated with Functionality

This might sound strange, but having an abundance of features could be a disadvantage, just as much as it might prove an advantage.

Although getting more for your money is always great, it can leave you with more than you bargained for. With a mass of features and functions, it can be easy to feel daunted and confused by the software. Additionally, with so many features, the usability of the product might decline.

It Might not Have All the Features You Need

The truth is, a commercial product is made to work for as many people as possible. And when a product is made for the mass market, it simply cannot satisfy every need for every person.

This means that you could find that a commercial software solution does not offer the features and functionality that you require. In which case, you’ll need to use several solutions in tandem, or a hybrid or bespoke product.

It Might not Fit Your Work Processes

The issue with commercial software is that it is made to suit many people, and not you specifically. Often, this is not a problem, and the software does what you need to in a way that works for your business. However, this isn’t guaranteed.

You might find that the software doesn’t include every feature you need, and so requires extra work and additional products integrated with it in order to execute your work processes. Alternatively, your new software might be able to complete all the functions you require, but in a way that does not align with your current process.

Your software should complement the way you work, not require you to change how you work. This is why it is important to consider the benefits of the solution, and if making changes are worthwhile or if developing a solution designed to complement and integrate seamlessly with your current ways of working.

Integration Issues

The fact is, the software is made for the mass market so it can’t be perfect for every user. It should be able to integrate with commonly used software and read popular file types.

However, it just is not feasible for a commercial product to be created with the ability to do it all. (Similar to how you might find that it lacks some features you would like.)
This means that you might find the product is not able to integrate with systems you are already using, or need to use to complement and complete your work process. Similarly, the software may not be able to use file types which you are already using and thus requiring reformatting or changes to your process.

The problem is, you shouldn’t have to change your work processes to fit a solution. They’re a solution after all, not another problem you have to overcome. This is why I suggest that you do not take on a solution that requires changes unless the benefit of the product is great enough to justify the effort or if changes will be taking place anyway, such as if you are going through a digital transformation.

Conclusion on off the shelf softwareConclusion

By understanding both the strengths and limitations of off the shelf software, you should now have some idea if it will be the right solution for your business. However, the next challenge will be searching for a commercial solution that fulfils all of your requirements.

Now that you have found out about the advantages and disadvantages of off the shelf software, why not learn about the advantages and disadvantages of bespoke software?

By understanding both kinds of solutions, and their benefits and drawbacks, you’ll build a strong idea of which software will be right for you and your business.

If you are still contemplating if bespoke or off the shelf software is right for you, you will find it useful to read about the factors in your purchasing decision and how each kind of software solution holds up against them.

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