Development debunking: Myths of bespoke software
Monday, September 03, 2018 - Adam Stirk
When it comes to updating, improving or replacing your business-critical systems, a bespoke software development company can help create an efficient and effective product that benefits its user. However, with the idea of bespoke software often comes a concern of the risks associated with the approach.
Here we’ve looked at four common bespoke software misconceptions and what the realities actually are.
Myth 1: Bespoke software development is too expensive
Perhaps the biggest myth surrounding bespoke software is around price, especially for large scale software development projects.
An off-the-shelf package can be a perfect solution if it matches the business’ exact processes, with no need for customisations, however, this is a rare occurrence in many industries; such as manufacturing and engineering, which involve a range of complex, differing processes.
When an off-the-shelf package is selected but doesn’t support the full range of complex business process, it can quickly become a costly exercise to adapt the software to support complex day-to-day workflows and operations. In certain cases, this approach can have significant impact in terms of performance where an attempt is made to adapt the business processes to meet the features of the package. For clarity, by customisation, we don’t mean integrated bolt-ons, or product configuration, but core system refactoring that pulls the product out of sync with the standard product feature set. The process of adding customisations often transforms your off-the-shelf project into a bespoke project by another means, and with the resulting mounting costs, along with licensing fees, upgrades and support costs, can end up costing a business far more than opting for an initial bespoke approach.
Even where the initial cost of a bespoke software project is larger, the full impact on ROI must be assessed based on long term scalability and ability to adapt and react to growing and evolving business needs.
Myth 2: A bespoke approach takes too long
Businesses are under constant time pressure to deliver in any type of project, which can often make an off-the-shelf option more appealing, whether it be the best initial fit for the business or not.
Also care must be taken to understand requirements for integrating new off-the-shelf products with existing business systems. Software is rarely ‘plug and play’, with large-scale product integration often resulting in interruptions in day to day operations and downtime. This in turn, adds further time required before ‘go-live’ that is often overlooked.
When a bespoke approach is adopted and an agile approach is chosen, at the core of this process will be continued feedback loops and iterative releases. In addition, the use of proof of concepts, MVP’s and prototypes, with a strong focus on the business needs and end-user requirements, ensures that the resulting product will be exactly fit-for-purpose. This is the same too when developing a software project based on a waterfall approach, as specifications are followed with greater feedback loops and refined releases. Therefore, although a bespoke approach may entail a longer process before the product is released, the benefits of the usability and scalability of the product, as well as the cost-savings and efficiencies that it can bring mean that the time invested can deliver a significantly greater return.
When considering software approaches for complex projects when a one size fits all perhaps doesn’t apply, businesses need to define how they measure success. Are you looking at getting a system installed or are you looking to get a system that will support your business?
Myth 3: Bespoke software development constantly requires updates
Bespoke software products are built to be fit-for-purpose and to match a business’ exact processes and workflows, with the ability to scale and adapt in line with the business. Bespoke software development in itself is a constant process of updating – refining requirements and building upon feedback to ensure an effective end solution. Updates beyond the initial release would then be further development to the product, developing solutions for other areas of the business, or integration; all of which only be required as a result business growth or change.
In contrast to this, off-the shelf products don’t tend to offer much movement when businesses change or try to innovate. This process then requires updates and workarounds to the system, resulting in many businesses trying to fit to the product, rather than the product fit to them. Businesses are also then expected to adjust to compulsory upgrades to package systems further down the line.
So yes, bespoke software development does requires updates, but this is a natural part of the project process, not something that is an added afterthought, as it is with these updates that the solution becomes refined, scalable and robust. And with regards to further developing and updating a bespoke product - if you have a software platform that is delivering a measurable ROI and is improving business operations, why would you not continue to invest in it? Based on continuous improvement principles, good software should never be finished.
Myth 4: The risk involved in bespoke software is too high
The undefined result element of opting for a bespoke approach may leave some with a rational fear of the unknown, as success is measured in outcomes, not activities. The fact that you don’t fully know what you are going to get at the end of the project can deter people away from engaging in bespoke software, as it is likely that the end result won’t be what you imagined when you started, especially when using an agile method. In actual fact, the resulting system should be different, but in being more fit-for-purpose as requirements are refined throughout the process.
As long as there is clear alignment with outcomes and a consistent approach and methodology is maintained, any issues should be picked up early in a bespoke project, providing the ability to adapt. Such adaptive approaches, with project progress correlated to reduced uncertainty, will increase the chances of the project being stress-free. Therefore, the key decision becomes one of selecting the correct software development partner.
As it may be critical to choose the correct software development partner for your business, it is just as critical that key stakeholders commit to the bespoke software project process. In order to achieve an effective end product, the process needs commitment from both domain experts, to provide clear guidance and feedback, as well as technology experts, to ensure the delivery of a high-quality technology solution.
For businesses to evolve, the tools at their disposal need to do likewise. Software systems are the backbone of many companies, allowing them to process, deliver and store data and information needed …