Custom Software vs. Off The Shelf

Custom vs Off the Shelf Software

“To build (custom software), or not to build, that is the question.”

William Shakespeare
Playwright and Expert Coder

Custom software development is creating applications uniquely tailored to meet the specific needs and requirements of a company, its users, and its customers. It is like creating a bespoke suit for your business, but with the added complexity of technology. This article will explore the pros and cons of custom software development and help you decide if it is the right fit for your business.

What is Custom Software Development?

Custom software development creates applications specially designed to meet the specific requirements of a company, its users, and its customers. It is the process of designing, developing, implementing, and maintaining software.

While using the same software development life cycle as off-the-shelf software, custom software development involves a narrowly defined set of requirements to meet the needs of a specific group of users.

Many businesses opt for customized software solutions because of the level of personalized and customized service they can provide to their customers. On the other hand, off-the-shelf software meets businesses’ general needs; Microsoft Office is the perfect example. With customized software, businesses can make changes at will based on important information and feedback from customers.

The biggest reason for developing custom software is that the company wants to “own” the solution. While the idea of software tailored to your business may sound exciting- it isn’t for everyone. The process can be expensive and time-consuming, and it’s challenging to convey the scope of the functionality you need to your development team.

Custom software development requires quality developers, time and effort of management and staff, and of course, the budget to do it.

Let’s look quickly at the significant differences between custom and off-the-shelf solutions.

Custom Software vs. Off-The-Shelf Software

Custom Software:

  1. Meets the exact needs of the users with only the functions that are necessary.
  2. Can be very flexible but can also be labor intensive.
  3. The company retains all ownership of all intellectual property and can schedule maintenance and upgrades at will.

Off-the-Shelf Software:

  1. Suitable for most businesses, especially in the start-up phase.
  2. Can be full of features that are unused or unnecessary.
  3. You are at the mercy of the software company for upgrades and maintenance.
  4. Has a lower cost and predictable results.

Why Develop Custom Software?

Here are some things to consider when deciding if you should create custom solutions for your business. Look for these signs:

  1. Employees are overwhelmed with inefficiencies. Consider a custom software solution if your employees deal with an overwhelming load of paperwork or perform multiple repetitive tasks daily. These inefficiencies can severely reduce overall company productivity. Custom technology should make tedious processes more efficient and save labor costs. It can also increase employee satisfaction resulting in higher loyalty.
  2. You need to be a data expert to interpret your information. Many small businesses spend an inordinate amount of time pouring numbers into a spreadsheet. A custom software solution can automatically connect to your data sources, such as your inventory management or point of sale system. Custom solutions can create quick and informative reports and charts. This efficiency allows businesses to make informed decisions based on actual numbers.
  3. Your company has specific, proprietary processes. If you are in a new industry or have innovative products or services, you may need a customized solution. A good example is Uber. Although the business model already existed for taxis, it had to be customized for drivers and users as the app-based ride-sharing business was new.
  4. Your company is expanding. Developing a custom software application will increase customer satisfaction and hence, retention, reduce errors, and boost sales. Since you created the custom solution, you can expand it or add new functionality anytime.

Custom Software Development Considerations

Implementing a custom software solution can be expensive and challenging. You need to evaluate the following:

  1. The cost: Off-the-shelf software applications range from tens to hundreds to thousands of dollars, but most have relatively low monthly subscription costs. Custom software requires a hefty investment in both dollars and man-hours. Custom solutions begin in the thousands and can easily reach five figures.
  2. The risks: The risks associated with custom software vary depending on the scope and complexity of the work. It is essential to have a clear roadmap of what you want the software to accomplish. Additional needs or features are often discovered during the software product development process, so you must budget time and money for that. Additional modifications and revisions mean more costs and additional development time, so if you have a specific implementation date, take this into account. Depending on the complexity, the average custom software development project takes between 4 and 12 months to complete.


Your customer is the key to your business success. The more you can personalize their experience, the greater the sales you will make and the higher your customer satisfaction rating will be. Custom solutions are the way to go if your budget can afford it.