October 16, 2017

Custom Software Misconceptions

When you say the words “custom software” people get intimidated; believing that developing software that’s specifically tailored to their specific needs:

  • is complicated so they don’t know where to start;
  • will be costly to build;
  • is time consuming to implement; and
  • requires lots of ongoing maintenance.

Faced with these objections or perceived obstacles, many companies end up choosing a “pre-packaged” software solution that is only able to fulfill some, but not all, of their business requirements, as a custom solution would. Often, people grossly underestimate the effort and costs required to modify the pre-packaged solution as best they can to accommodate their unique requirements.

Being in the software space for 20 years now, we’ve come across many misconceptions about custom software; here are our top six.

Misconception #1: Custom software is too expensive.

In reality, the cost for a custom software application tailored specifically for your business requirements is easy to forecast and can be more economical in the long run. When you’re buying off-the-shelf software, you end up investing in a product that doesn’t belong to you and have very limited control over. When there are updates to the solution, compatibility or integration issues can arise resulting in unpredictable performance and higher costs.

With custom software, you know the costs for development and maintenance upfront and you know that every update will take your unique environment (and integration requirements) into consideration.

Misconception #2: We have limited internal technical resources and don’t know a lot about programming. We should probably steer clear of custom software.

Most of our clients are businesspeople focused on their own line of business, and while the majority have internal IT departments, they might lack software development skills. This shouldn’t mean that custom software, designed specifically to address their unique business challenges should not be considered.

A good software development company will take the time to understand your business and be strong communicators to help you articulate your needs in the language of your business and your industry; language that you clearly understand. Armed with your requirements, they should be able to explain precisely how the solution they’re recommending aligns with your business objectives and meets your specific requirements. It’s all about clear communication, both verbal and written.

Admittedly, different programming languages, frameworks and tech-jargon can be overwhelming, but that’s where our project managers and solution architects come in. They can explain the pros and cons to help you make informed decisions, bridging technical and business conversations to help keep everyone on the team in sync.

Misconception #3: The process of getting a custom software solution seems complicated.

Good planning and good design are the foundation of every successful project. While I don’t want to over simplify our approach (which was developed and refined over the last two decades), effective custom software development processes should include these critical stages:

  • Requirements Analysis & Technical Design: At Whitecap, we use our proprietary e-RAD™ to achieve well-articulated and documented functional requirements, as well as a proposed architecture for the application.
  • UX Design: Focusing on user experience (UX), information architecture, interface design, and other visual elements.
  • Development: Building the application and making sure it integrates seamlessly.
  • Testing and Deployment: Beyond Quality Assurance testing, usability and in some cases load testing might be required before you roll out the solution.

Once these high-level stages are defined, more detailed task assignments and timelines are developed to help keep every project on track.

Misconception #4: I’m sure there’s packaged software I can buy to meet my objectives.

In some cases, you’re right: off-the-shelf is certainly an option to consider, but when you have unique business processes that differentiate your company from your competitors, or you need a solution that is very specific to your business, custom may be the only way to go to achieve your objectives. You want software that adapts to the way you do business, not the other way around.

And, as we mentioned earlier, you don’t own or control the future of off-the-shelf software, which can create longer term issues. With a custom solution you own the IP (intellectual property). You’re in the driver’s seat and can decide how it needs to work for your employees, customers and suppliers, as well as what enhancements you could make, and when. The software belongs only to you and it can set your company apart from your competition. Your software solution is a unique asset to your company that can help to drive up your company’s valuation.

Misconception #5: There are lots of software app builders out there I can use to build a solution myself.

No doubt about it, there are plenty of tools and products out there to help build custom applications, and this might seem like a viable option.

Before heading down this path, consider a few key things:

  • Technical complexities – whether you’re building cloud-based solutions, mobile apps or websites, getting all the elements your business needs to work seamlessly together can be complicated.
  • Your time – Yes, tools are available but it will take time to learn how these tools work and how to tailor them to your specific requirements.
  • Security – vulnerabilities abound. You need to ensure security is top of mind and that the platform or solution you’re using isn’t creating a weakness that could be exploited.

Misconception #6: If I get a custom software solution, I’ll be handcuffed to the developer and have to rely on that developer every time we want to make a change.

When you work with a software developer, you get access to experts who can help you during every phase of your development, but it’s a misconception that working with a developer to help refine a solution or make changes is costly.

Major upgrades or changes could require expert development time, but many software development firms offer options that will allow customers to make some adaptations themselves, while being available when things get complicated. It gives you the best of both worlds.

It is, however, very important to ensure that the developer you choose to work with is using industry-standard software platforms to build your application versus a proprietary technology owned by the developer. That way, if you decide to part ways for whatever reason, you will be able to find another company who is versed in your technology platform.

Deciding on the software or applications that power your business has many important considerations that shouldn’t be taken lightly. For sure, there are many off-the-shelf, ready-made applications that could serve you well, but sometimes to get exactly and precisely what you’re looking for, you need to consider a custom application designed specifically for you. There are many tangible benefits going this route and you shouldn’t be afraid to explore this option.

We’d love to help you better understand your options and show you how others have tackled similar challenges.  Let’s get started.