February 17, 2016 Robb Carmichael

When Cookie Cutter Software Just Won’t Do

For some businesses, utilizing off-the-shelf software to run their business is good enough.  But for others, like those operating a unique service or those companies who do things a little different from their competition (and that’s their unique selling proposition), putting technology in place that forces them to change their processes and do things like everyone else, just won’t cut it.

That’s where custom software comes in.

Now wait just a minute since I can already hear the nay-sayers: Custom software costs more, it takes too long to build or I can’t guarantee after all the work is done, it’s going to work the way I want.  These might all be valid concerns if you’re not working with a proven, quality and reputable software developer … but more on that in a future BLOG.

Here’s a more important truth: Custom software is an asset and has real tangible value for a business.

Let me explain: When you have a custom software solution, it’s mapped precisely to the way you operate or the way you choose to operate. It makes you more efficient, can save you time, help you increase sales, and lets you retain the unique aspects of your business that made you a success in the first place.

Skeptics might think this is just a sales ploy but the proof lies with our customers:

    1. A company serving real-estate professionals in North America saw an opportunity to branch out with a new business offering that they believed was under-serviced by existing suppliers. They created a modern service offering, completely powered by leading-edge technology, which required the development of new custom-designed software, mapped to their compelling vision for an automated professional real estate solution. This business grew in a few short years to become the second largest in its field, surpassing and stealing market share from many of the established players along the way.  The custom software we developed for them helped them to diversify and grow in ways that surpassed their expectations.
    2. When a firm that does building and safety inspections looked to expand into new markets, they quickly realized their off-the-shelf software was limiting their ability to service new verticals. Custom was the only way to give them the functionality they needed and the flexibility to expand and serve new industry sectors.  The result?  A competitive edge that led to new markets and more business.
    3. A transportation and logistics company runs their business in a very unique way, leveraging proprietary processes that set them apart from every other distribution/logistics firm. They were quickly outgrowing the spreadsheets and other software they’d been using but when they looked at off-the-shelf solutions to help them cope with their growth and demand, there wasn’t anything out there that would allow them to maintain the unique business processes that made them different from their competitors. Custom software was the best option.  Their unique approach caught the attention of a much larger logistics company, which ended up acquiring the firm at a higher multiple than they might have received otherwise in part because the buyer saw real value in the software that we were building and recognized that it could be used across their organization.  The software in this transaction was viewed as a real business asset and a significant differentiator.

There are many, many more examples where we have built solutions that have helped our customers to distinguish themselves and change the playing field.

It’s important to remember that the software you build is your Intellectual Property (IP). Reputable developers will ensure you own your software and its source code 100% so it becomes a valuable part of your business and a real tangible asset.  This is a critical consideration when signing any software development agreement.  You need to make sure that it’s spelled out and crystal clear in the agreement that the software and its code belong to you. Software ownership is something you definitely don’t get with an off-the-shelf solution.

How do you know if custom is right for you?

Every company and business is different so it makes sense to sit down with software development experts for advice, but here are a few quick clues that a custom solution may in fact be the best option for you.

  1. Your business is unique. If you are in an industry that has few or no competitors, chances are there either isn’t an off-the-shelf software package that does what you need, or existing solutions will be missing key, critical elements.
  2. Your processes are distinct. You’ve taken time to develop an innovative approach that your competitors can’t match.  Don’t change the processes that distinguish you from every other company out there and make you better, instead the software needs to perfectly fit and support your distinct business proposition.
  3. You’ve outgrown cookie-cutter. Whether you need the ability to collect more comprehensive information or you’ve grown too much for a basic software solution, successful businesses reach a point when the off-the-shelf solution that worked well in the past, no longer meets their emerging business needs.
  4. You’re going mobile. Whether your employees need more remote access or new tools for their smartphones in order to compete more effectively, companies who need to be able to access information anywhere could need to start looking at a custom solution instead of implementing a whole raft of app store solutions to meet piecemeal requirements (and then needing to integrate and support them all).
  5. You need more control. When you don’t own the software, getting changes made can be slow, costly or impossible. And, if you’ve bought software created in another country (including the US), it may not have all the Canadian language, legislative and tax elements you need. Custom solutions give you control over your software so you can add the things you need at a cost you have greater control over.

A custom software solution can help you differentiate your business from your competition and becomes IP that is a significant corporate asset. For some smaller or mid-sized companies this unique asset can, in turn, help to drive your company valuation higher should you ever wish to sell the company.

Working with software development experts, you can get help evaluating all your options from off-the-shelf to custom software solutions or even a hybrid option that lets you find the right fit. In my next BLOG, I’ll talk more about how to get software development projects rolled out right from the start.