Off-the-shelf vs. bespoke software development

Matthew 9th March 2017 0 Comments


Off-the-shelf vs. bespoke software development

When a business is on the lookout for a software package or application, they usually have only two main options available to them (although there is a third option few understand – explained below) – either purchase an off-the-shelf software package, or have a bespoke software solution developed around your business and/or problem. Here, we examine just some of the important pros and cons of each.

Option 1: Off-the-shelf software

Off-the-shelf software is ‘ready-made’ software that is available to lots of people to either download or subscribe to. Usually, you pay a license fee to have access to it, e.g. Microsoft Office

The advantages offered by off-the-shelf software include;

Cheaper alternative

The costs of the solution are usually spread across a wide number of users, so you don’t pay much to build the same software from scratch.

Available immediately

Because the development work has already been completed, usually all you need to do is set up the software and start using it.

Reduced training costs

If it is a widely-used and well documented package, users and I.T. staff may already be familiar with it, saving valuable learning time and training costs. There may be pre-existing training materials, documentation and courses that you can leverage.

Community support

If the software is popular, there could be books, articles, forums and online societies that offer support and advice to help you learn how to achieve your objectives or resolve any issues.

More Functionality

Off-the-shelf software offers more functionality, because the developers try to meet the requirements of as many users as possible. They could also include additional functionality you didn’t realise you even needed.


If the software is reputable, the vendor will typically continue to develop the software so you’ll more likely get free updates or further iterations at reduced cost.

The disadvantages of off-the-shelf software are;


You may (and likely will) have to compromise on your requirements as it is less likely that you find ready-made software that does everything you need it to, exactly the way want it.

May be overly complicated

The software may include some or allot of functionality that you don’t actually need. Developers of Off-The-Shelf Software (or SASS) are typically trying to meet the wide variety of different requirements of an array of users. This can make it more complicated to learn and use.

You are not in control

The vendor’s plans may not always be in-line with yours, and being just a single entity amongst many other customers, you may be unable to get the features you want implemented.


Option 2: Bespoke (custom-made) software

Bespoke software or custom-made software is specially built for you, to meet your exact business requirements.

The advantages include;

Tailored for you

Bespoke Software is specially developed to meet your individual company’s requirements. What you get is certain to work exactly how you need it and will deliver the results you want.

More flexible

Bespoke software can develop over time to meet your changing demands. Functionality which isn’t a necessity now, may become really important later on; with Bespoke Software, you have the choice of adding this functionality, whereas if the functionality is not available in your off-the-shelf solution this might present significant business problems.

No ‘per-user’ fees

So long as you own the software, you won’t have to pay extra ‘per-user fees’ or licensing costs as your business grows. Typically, you can add as many users as you want and have full control of user management.

Not tied in

What you own is the intellectual property of your software solution, so you’re not locked in to a specific vendor that could potentially disappear at any time, change their prices or be taken over by another company that wants to take the software in a ‘different direction’.

Competitive advantage

As you’re the sole owner of the software, it could give you a competitive edge and advantage over your competitors. An effective software package can make a company work more efficiently, boost performance levels and have a positive impact on customer satisfaction levels.


The disadvantages of bespoke software however include;

Higher initial costs

Because you’re paying for the development costs at the beginning, it accounts for higher initial costs. It is important to remember that although initial cost may be higher, on-going costs are usually significantly reduced and it is not uncommon to earn ‘pay back’ in just a few years – Or as little as a few months!

Takes longer

Depending on the size and complexity of the software, it could take some months or even years to develop fully. You could of course opt for a ‘phased development’ whereby initially you develop the ‘core functionality’ which consists of absolute ‘must haves’, and then over several phases you can introduce additional functionality.


Option 3: The hybrid solution

A third possibility and one which is often overlooked, is to find an off-the-shelf package that matches about 70-80% of your requirements, then have it customized to match the other 20%-30%. This may be done by the original developers – if they’re willing to do so – or by a third-party, so long as it is customisable or open source.

Most software providers (worth their salt) will offer some form of API which allows other applications and programs to interface and communicate with each other. This API usually allows multiple software packages to exchange information and streamline business processes.

The ‘Hybrid Software Solution’ option offers the best of both worlds – cheaper and quicker setup than fully bespoke software, but a closer match to your requirements than pure off-the-shelf software.

We can help

At Square Media, we are specialists in bespoke software development – we can write bespoke software for you or customise your existing systems to work better, including streamlining your processes and solving business problems. Through our consultancy services, our expertise can help clients navigate the options available to them and choose the best off-the-shelf software or make recommendations for Bespoke Software Solutions.

Contact us on 03303 800 630, or email to discuss how we could help your business work smarter, more efficiently and reduce overheads.

About Square Media

With more than 30 years’ experience, we design and build bespoke software solutions and websites for organisations in around Northamptonshire, helping businesses to work more cost effectively and achieve their full potential utilising our creative and technical proficiency to deliver the perfect solutions.

Our friendly, highly experienced team of web designers and software developers are committed to helping our clients achieve the results they want. Based in Corby, Northamptonshire, our web and software designers / developers can offer complex software solutions to local businesses at a reasonable cost.