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Why choose custom software over off the shelf software?

Off the shelf software is designed to satisfy the majority of the needs of the majority of potential purchasers. The development cost of the package is spread over the number of purchasers who are expected to purchase the software during its lifespan.

As with everything, off the shelf software is built to a budget. Budgets are never large enough to accommodate all that is requested of them. As a result, some features that would be desirable or even vital to only a small percentage of potential users do not get included.

Another reason is that a software program is usually built to satisfy the needs of a target market. A target market could be what is called a vertical market, like event managers, or an horizontal market, like people who need an internet browser. A package that does everything for a business would be huge, complex, expensive and take a long time to set up, as the enterprise wide software packages do.

If yours is a small to medium sized business that has standard needs, you would never commission custom software. It would simply not make economic sense to pay orders of magnitude more for custom software than an off the shelf package.

The main reason organisations contemplate custom software is because they have a need that is uncommon. There is no off the shelf package available that enables them to do what they want done or the offerings that do are so large, comprehensive and expensive that having a smaller package built that does exactly and only what they need done is a viable alternative.

Even for those organisations having a custom requirement, there has to be sufficient pain, either in lost time or lost opportunity, to justify the cost and time to work with a developer to get software built that satisfies their needs.

Sometimes the potential gain can be a competitive edge. If you can perform your administration and processing tasks faster, cheaper or with a better level of customer service, you have an edge over your competition.

If you have searched the market and found nothing off the shelf that does what you need then crunched the numbers and arrived at the conclusion that it is a viable alternative to have something built, the next question is, "Where do you find the right developer for your project?"

By Tom Grimshaw, a custom software developer.