The Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Custom Software Development

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If you’re searching for new software, chances are you’re responsible for solving a problem at your business. It can be overwhelming to make a large-scale technological decision for any size organization. There are so many options to choose from, including thousands of off-the-shelf solutions or custom-developed software.

Deciding on bespoke (a.k.a custom) versus ready-made software is an important decision. It determines how much you’ll spend, how much control you have, and, ultimately, how successful your business will be because of that product. 

Despite so much on the line, few business leaders truly understand how custom software works. They’re not sure how long the process takes, what it costs, or what their options are. These unknowns often lead to choosing inferior products that don’t meet your business’s specific needs. 

In this blog, we’ll cover all the basics of choosing custom software development so you can make an informed decision about what type of software will best meet your business requirements.

What Is Custom Software?

Custom software is an application or software program created by developers specifically for your business. It’s built from scratch and can be fully customized to include specific capabilities and functionalities, such as the automation of time-consuming tasks or streamlining workflows in your business operations.

Custom software’s market rival is ready-made software, which is pre-built and ready to implement right away. Products like Microsoft Office, Salesforce or Oracle, to name a few. These products have some advantages such as quicker adoption timelines and lower upfront costs, but they often have limited capabilities and might not be a perfect match for your business.

With custom software, your business then has full ownership of that application or program, which makes it far more agile. It becomes an asset to your business and you have full control over its features, giving you a unique market advantage over your competitors. 

There are many benefits to custom software, but it isn’t necessarily for every type of business. Let’s dive into the details of developing a fully customized software solution.

How Does It Work?

When you embark on a custom software development project, you’ll work with a team of developers and IT professionals. That team will help you establish the requirements for your software, the business problem you need to solve, and key functionalities you need to achieve your goals and create a positive user experience.

If you’re working with the right team, you won’t need to know how to perfectly articulate every feature, requirement, and functionality you want from your software. The development team you choose to work with should have  strong subject matter expertise or the ability to rapidly become subject matter experts. They should lead and guide you to discover exactly what your software needs to do to help you overcome an operational inefficiency.

From there, your team will build the software using computer code and help you implement, test, and maintain it.

How Long Does It Take?

The software development process can seem lengthy compared to implementing a ready-made software product because you’re starting from scratch. There are no pre-built modules or outlined functionalities; you get to make all those decisions yourself. 

Although custom development always takes longer, the exact timeline depends on the size of the project. 

In general, there are six steps to the software development process:

  • Establish requirements
  • Design the software
  • Coding and implementation 
  • Testing
  • Deployment
  • Maintenance

A typical startup project takes around 4-6 months to complete —  one month for establishing requirements and designing the software,  two months for coding and implementation, and two  months for testing. However, bigger projects can easily require 6-12 months to complete.

After the first four steps, the software is deployed and ready for use. Maintenance and upgrades are ongoing as-needed.

Want to know more? Read our blog The (Real) Pros and Cons of Custom Software Development.

Do I Need Custom Software?

The multitude of opportunities that come with custom software may pique your interest, but you might still be wondering if it’s really the right solution for you. After all, that ready-made SaaS product you saw seems a lot simpler and has a much shorter timeline to implementation.

For some businesses, pre-designed software solutions will work just fine. For others, however, ready-made products just won’t cut it.

To assess if custom software might be right for your business, consider these questions:

  • Do you need new capabilities to advance your business?
  • Are you looking for a competitive edge in your market?
  • Are you constantly frustrated with your existing software?
  • Do you always have to find workarounds to make your current products fit your needs?
  • Do you find that your software solution is dictating how you run your business?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then custom software might be a good fit. 

There are some caveats, though. If you’re underfunded or not willing to invest in long-term support and maintenance of your custom software application, then you’ll likely be happier with a productized solution for now. Eventually, you may reach a point where custom software is the only way to move your business forward. Then you can reconsider if you’re willing to fund that long-term solution.

Additionally, to succeed with custom software, you must have a highly skilled in-house IT team or work with a qualified custom software development company. 

Outsourced vs. In-House Development

When taking on a custom software project, you must decide to either use your internal IT team or to outsource to a professional partner.

Working with your internal team members is a good option because they likely understand the issue you’re working to solve and you already have a close co-working relationship with them.

If you use your in-house team, keep in mind that you’ll likely pull away employees from their regular duties to work solely on building your new application. It’s no secret that IT teams are typically swamped with long lists of maintenance tasks just to keep the business up and running. Building an application takes time and focus, so having your team members split their time between designing custom software and their regular responsibilities will greatly extend the development timeline.

A big benefit to outsourcing custom software development services is working with a team of dedicated developers who can give your project the full-time attention it deserves. This will reduce the time to implementation and get you a quicker return on investment. 

Another benefit to using a qualified third-party development partner is that you have consulting built into your contract. It’s always helpful to get a fresh set of eyes on your business processes and generate more ideas on how to streamline and improve. When you work in-house, your team is as close to the business as you are and may not offer a new perspective.

Whether you decide to work internally or with a partner, it’s important to establish hosting and maintenance guidelines upfront to ensure that your application will always run smoothly. 

Is Custom Software Right for You?

Now that you understand the ins and outs of custom software development, you can decide if it’s right for your business. 

Consider a product solution if you don’t currently have the budget for fully custom software. A product might also be the right choice if your business can’t survive a 4–6-month custom software development timeline or if you don’t have a trusted internal IT team or third-party partner.

However, if you’re ready to take your business to the next level and gain a competitive advantage over your market rivals, or if you’ve realized first-hand that productized solutions just don’t work for your unique business needs, then you’re ready to make the investment in custom software. And we want to help!

For more help evaluating your needs and options, take our self-guided assessment. It will help you assess where you are in your digital journey and give us an opportunity to make recommendations that best match your business.

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