Bespoke vs. Off-The-Shelf Applications
Date Added: 02 Feb 2012
Added By: Olaf Eulenstein
There are many software companies throughout the world which build so-called off-the-shelf generic applications. Most of those applications are designed for specific industry sectors like Retail, Finance, Law, Recruitment, etc.
There are even larger application suites which encompass many industry sectors like ERP solutions (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM solutions (Customer Relationship Management).
During my life at Breakwater It I have come across many such generic applications and I guess all of them have had at least one of these issues:
- The application is really old, built in the dark ages and designed for a mainframe. It still costs many thousands of pounds to license on a yearly basis. Upgrades have been missed out, so the application version in place is old. However - the users have eventually got used to it and are now reluctant to change. This is of course great for the software vendor – good recurring revenue for many years (and many years to come…).
As time has moved on, there are similar products on the market running on a lighter operating system, easier to use and much cheaper.
- The application has been in place for many years and although upgrades have been applied on a regular basis, the system is grindingly slow.
This is quite a common ‘generic’ application problem. Most of these systems have the facility for end-users to create their own ‘custom’-fields. You have e.g. a base customer record but you can expand on that by adding all the fields you would like to store additionally against each customer. Although the initial base data structure was well defined and optimised for large amounts of data, the custom data structure is not. Most queries that refer to custom fields will become slower and slower. A common way out is to upgrade the hardware to compensate for the software.
- The application is so generic that it requires specialists to build the screens required. In some cases this has evolved to some recruitment companies advertising for these specialists when the application really should have been generic. Some software vendors also look at this as future income as they can hire out people to adjust the application that was sold as a generic application in the first place. It seems that these companies are much stronger in sales and marketing than software development.
- The application was built and sold by a company called ‘XYZGenerics’ and everything was great – until, 1 year later, ‘XYZGenerics’ merged with another company called ‘123Geriatrics’ who already had their own product portfolio. Some staff was made redundant; the result was that everything was no longer great. Support was no longer available, upgrades ceased, etc. ‘123Geriatrics’ was then sold to yet another company and the initial application was really left on a limb. This is in fact not uncommon, as especially in recent decades many companies tend to merge or are being sold to larger enterprises.
- The application is great, but very complicated because it can do so much. Many companies who buy these applications tend to use a very small percentage of it. This is mainly down to good sales-people who, at the same time, managed to sell each member of staff a pack of 5 1/4“ disks. In some cases companies have ‘bent’ their operations around what the application can do rather than what the company wants to do.
There are of course many products out there that do exactly what people want and the community of companies using these products is so large that products are constantly maintained and improved upon – and we are talking about software companies that are unlikely to merge (in the near future).
A company that is looking for an application to meet specific requirements may not find it easy to get the right one. Some companies start developing their own application(s) in-house. If this is the case, they would start an internal development department (or sometimes one of the employees is an expert in MS Excel – it’s amazing how many companies rely on spread sheets to carry out their day to day work).
What is most important to these companies is that whatever they choose to use will not just be another application such as email application or internet browser – this application will potentially run the entire operations and the survival of the company will rely on the application 100%.
Here are some of the benefits from having a bespoke application developed:
- The receiving company becomes part of the development project and therefore has input on all of the functionality, usability and brings a lot of specific experience to the table
- The receiving company owns the application, the source and copyright (it may even re-sell the application in some cases. It has been known that some of these initially specific applications have turned into generic applications). This ownership is a guarantee that no matter what happens, there is always someone to be found who can take on the development and maintenance of the application.
- The application does exactly what it needs to do - No more, no less. It is stream-lined and optimised to perform 100% at all times.
- The costs can potentially (not very often) be higher when compared to generic applications, but this should be seen as an investment into the company.
- The application is extensible – any future requirements can simply be added when the time comes. The business is moulding the application, not the other way round.
- The company can review current processes. There are always ways to use technology to improve user performance, to make things easier and quicker. Employees will spend less time on lengthy tasks and more time on what they should be doing.
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