15 July 2016

Off The Shelf vs Custom Software, The Pros and Cons

Figuring out which route to go with your software needs can be daunting. Is it better to buy something off the shelf or to have a development team create a custom software solution for your business?


Just like the Apollo Lunar Module (which the code in the graphic above is from – so cool!), your business runs on software. It’s worth asking if the tools you using are the best fit for what you’re trying to do with them. It’s one of the most important decisions for your business – cost, efficiency, training, features – these are just a few things that you’ll need to know and understand.

Your competition and market are always moving ahead – how can you be sure the decision you make is best?

Off-the-shelf software, or “out of the box” (although lately, not much software is on shelves or in boxes anymore) software comes ready to install and use. Usually, after some research you’ll find the right combination of cost and features that fit your business, then it’s just a matter of purchasing and installing. However, you’re going to be following a herd of customers that this software services.

We like to call this the “80%” rule. In our experience working with clients, we’ve found that the best off-the-shelf software only solves about 80% of a business’s needs on average. Click to tweet this! What it comes down to is if that remaining 20% is important enough to the business to change their processes to fit, or to go with a custom software solution.

Custom software fits perfectly within your existing business. Similar to buying a bespoke suit or dress, it’s perfectly contoured to your unique setup and should fit perfectly. The same development team that built the software should also be the ones supporting it, so features and bug fixes will happen at a rapid pace. Just like bespoke clothing, there is an investment involved, both time and financial.

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So with that understanding, how can you be sure you’re picking the correct solution? Here are some pros and cons of both. 
However, that financial investment can be strategically reduced. Unlike off-the-shelf software, custom software can be tailored to deliver only the absolutely necessary features initially. This MVP, or “minimum viable product”, can then scale with the business growth as more efficiency is gained and investment capital is made available.

Off-The-Shelf Software


  • Lower up-front cost
  • Setup happens quickly
  • Included support, or added with a monthly cost
  • Upgrades provided for free or at a small cost


  • Slow to adapt to the industry
  • You may not use all of the features, meaning you’re paying for more than you need
  • Most likely won’t fit your business processes, requiring some kind of a workaround
  • Any feature request you need could be ignored unless it benefits most of their customers
  • Unless there’s an open API, customizing the software is hugely expensive or impossible
  • Bugs that cause your business issues can linger if they’re not considered critical to the entire customer base
  • Support system that may mean days until questions are answered

Custom Software


  • Start with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and scale later as more capital is available
  • Is built exactly for your business processes
  • Feature updates and bug updates are much quicker
  • Training new employees are much simpler since it fits perfectly with existing processes
  • No wasted cost because you’re using every feature that was developed
  • Sometimes direct communication with the development team


  • Higher initial cost
  • Development time before the software can be used
  • All changes and feature requests may be billed accordingly

Ultimately it’s up to you which is a better fit for your business. No business is really the same, since each one wants to address their customer’s needs in a unique manner. You’ll need to decide if following the herd of an off-the-shelf software solution is the best for your business, or if you should build something to fit the processes you’ve strived to develop in your business.

We’ve worked with clients for years to provide custom-developed software for their businesses for their unique needs. That experience allows us to help educate and advise our clients on whether a custom solution or an out-of-the-box solution is best for their business.