What are the Disadvantages of Bespoke Software?
In our last post we went through the many advantages of bespoke software. In order to give our customers a complete picture we therefore have to cover the disadvantages too. That is what we are going to do in this post, along with some tips on how to mitigate the issues.
Up Front Costs
If you read our last post you will already know that bespoke software is often cheaper than off-the-shelf software over time. Apart from big enterprise software (Enterprise Resource Planners etc) which still tend to have large up-front setup frees, most modern off-the-shelf software is normally sold with some form of monthly or annual licence fee, commonly based on the number of users. The consistent payment profile is good for cash flow and planning.
Bespoke software, on the other hand, typically has a large up-front payment and lower ongoing costs.
- Speak to your developer. You will see that a lot our tips will involve this because developers are fully aware of the disadvantages. They will want to minimise them for your as much as possible. There are probably things they can offer such as regular but lower staged payments. They may even have finance partners they can introduce to fund your project and pay for it over an even longer period.
- Search for grants. Although this does take a bit of effort it is a great way of getting at least some of your bespoke software project funded. A great place to start is Innovate UK, but keep searching as grants change all the time. Some are national, some are local, some a from the Government and local councils and some are from the private sector.
- Look into R&D Tax Relief and funding options.
Time To Being Available
Bespoke software by definition is built from scratch to your requirements. That means that from the point you sign off on a project there will be a period when the software is being developed but is not available to use. Big projects are normally phased so you can start using at least some of the functionality sooner. In all cases you will be looking at weeks, and probably months, of wait. This is especially an issue if this is a new system to your business as you have to find a workaround during your wait. If you are replacing a system then it can be less of a disadvantage as you can just keep using what you are already using.
In comparison off-the-shelf software can be available from the moment you sign up.
- Speak to your developer about phasing the project based on your priority for what you need most urgently. They can work with you to minimise the disruption the project causes.
- The easiest way to avoid this disadvantage is to just give yourself plenty of time. Start projects early so they are ready when you need them.
This is actually a function of poor maintenance and to a lessor extent, poor development. Therefore this disadvantage can be attributed to both off-the-shelf and bespoke software. The software you have developed for you may not actually be the biggest threat, it could be the rest of the development stack or third-party libraries that have been used. Also, it is fair to say that some software does not need to be as secure as other software and this needs to be decided before development begins.
- This one is actually pretty easy to keep on top of. Following the old adage of prevention is better than cure, you need to establish a regular maintenance plan. That plan needs to deal with the full development stack and take care of upgrades as the third parties release security patches and bug fixes. This doesn’t always happen with one party, for example your hosting provider might deal with OS upgrades as part of their service. It does need to be managed by one party though.
The Blank Page
If we asked you to write down everything you needed to do to build a house from scratch, would you be able to do it? How much detail would you need and do you even have the knowledge to cover everything in enough detail? This is what we call The Blank Page problem. Your alternative is the much easier task of buying a house that is already built.
This is the same with off-the-shelf (like buying a built house) versus bespoke software (like building a house from scratch). With off-the-shelf you have the advantage of someone else having filled in the blank page.
- Just like you would get an architect, structural engineer, experienced builder and probably many more experts involved with your new house project this problem in terms of bespoke software is solved by having the right software development partner. You should be providing the headings and they should provide a service to fill in the detail. We call the finished product a Software Requirements Specification (SRS).
Missing out on Good Ideas
One of the advantages of bespoke software is that it only needs to be as complex as you need it to be. Off-the-shelf will have a lot of features that you don’t need but what if it has some that you never thought of that would be a big benefit to your business. Lots of people contribute to off-the-shelf software so ideas come from lots of places and that means you can take advantage of those ideas.
- The best way to mitigate this disadvantage is to keep trying other bits of software, especially your competition. Also remember that your software will be full of your good ideas which no one can try out without your permission.
Training & User Support
Especially on off-the-shelf that is widely used it is rare that you will be the first person to ask a “How do I?” question. In fact, just typing the question into Google will probably bring back pages of answers, some official and some directly from other users. It is a powerful tool and definitely an advantage of widely used off-the-shelf software. For bespoke software this knowledge base has to built from scratch over time.
- Design your software to do what you want it to do in the simplest way possible. Users will have less questions.
- Build up a knowledge base and user guide. The best versions of these are updated all the time much like a wiki.
- A lot of software developers offer front end support so it is very feasible to outsource user support to the team that developed it in the first place.
We have covered a lot of the disadvantages of bespoke software in the above post and tried to provide a few tips to either minimise them or remove them completely. There are times when the disadvantages are too big to overcome but we think those are few and far between. If you are having trouble finding a solution to a disadvantage then get in touch and we will be happy to help.