We couldn’t, in good conscience, call this a proper company blog if we didn’t publish some cheesy, holiday-themed post at some point, right?
Well, here it is. Happy Independence Day!
But despite the theme of this post being unoriginal at best, the message is important.
More and more, we are seeing organizations ditching off-the-shelf bloatware and entertaining the idea of a customized solution. The purpose of this post is to remind you of some of the reasons why these companies are making the shift, and the benefits that can be reaped if you too chose to make the transition.
So what do you get when you escape the tyranny of off-the-shelf software?
Complete Control & Flexibility
You don’t really know what a lack of control is until you are suffering from the problem. This is the reason so many companies end up with bad technical solutions—they simply don’t know what they don’t know.
Every software company and every software salesperson is the same. They all promise to solve every problem and every challenge your company has. In a sales meeting, you may ask a specific question: “Can your software handle integration into our XYZ internal system?” The salesperson will answer yes, show you some sample scenarios, and you’ll assume everything will be fine.
But the devil is in the details. Perhaps that feature works on day one, perhaps it doesn’t. Maybe it is partially capable, but the key component falls short. Either way, one of the reasons you chose the solution is now making your life difficult, resulting in changes to your businesses workflows to manage your way around the roadblock.
This is where custom software makes a difference. Much like a toy truck is only a toy truck, Legos can be modified to make a truck or a plane or anything else you could want. This holds true for custom software too. Too many developers only know how to play with toy trucks, and too few truly comprehend how to assemble Legos into creative solutions.
Custom software is your Lego set. It can be built into an almost infinite number of solutions, provided you have the knowledge of how it works and a plan for accomplishing the task at hand.
If your company currently runs a technical solution that was originally promised to be the solution to all your problems, yet you are constantly struggling to perform the simplest of tasks, you may be an excellent candidate to consider custom solutions. A custom-developed solution may cost more, but the lost-opportunity cost of your current platform may be severe enough to justify the expense of a redevelopment effort.
As mentioned above, flexibility is important. But just as important is actual ownership of your solution.
Any solution you don’t own outright means you share it with the provider and their other customers. This also means you are never priority #1 for your vendor. As such, you are losing the ability to make the changes and amendments you need on a timely basis, or perhaps losing the ability to have those changes realized at all!
There are a couple of ways you can license software. All are equally bad, to be honest. If you utilize a SaaS provider for the key components of your infrastructure, you are particularly vulnerable. If the provider goes out of business, the software goes away. If they have downtime, your application goes down too. Worst of all, when they push changes, it can affect how your application performs.
In many ways, SaaS applications integrated into your custom solution are dangerous and should be avoided.
Software that is built for you but that you license carries its own concerns as well. If the developer dumps you or you dump them, who maintains the code? Can you continue to use it? If the developer gets better customers, what happens to you?
And the final arrangement is simply licensing a platform such as a CMS. All the above risks are carried along, in addition to the risks of unpredictability. If the platform you license upgrades, will you have notice? What will it break?
I, for one, am too autonomous an individual to ever recommend being handcuffed to anyone else, whether it be an agency, a software manufacturer, or an open-source project.
Ownership means you will be responsible for your fate, but it gives you the freedom to control what that fate may be.
Some businesses can function just fine being identical to others.
But what if you want to be different?
The fact of the matter is that off-the-shelf software is built for the most common use cases. It’s built for 90% of the scenarios that businesses run into online. But will that cover what makes your company unique?
For most informational sites, you are probably covered. Platforms like WordPress and their plugin library can carry your site relatively well. And for informational sites and small/medium businesses, security may not matter enough to stray from the comfort of the platform’s community.
But for applications or sophisticated situations such as e-commerce, communities, or portals, off-the-shelf software will oftentimes not manage to answer the challenges that you are relying on to set yourself apart from the competition.
These types of businesses, those who provide a product that is consumed online, are most likely to be candidates that will benefit from custom software solutions. SaaS applications, online communities, complex e-commerce, intranets, and other mission-specific applications will always be better served by solutions architected and built for them, as opposed to taking software off the shelf and trying to configure it to differentiation. It simply won’t work.
Often overlooked and almost never asked about when shopping for software: Is the platform scalable? As your company grows, will it be well served by using an off-the-shelf or custom solution?
Scalability means many things. First, it can relate to traffic and overall usage. If you are debating between utilizing a cloud-hosted SaaS platform for a component of your business ecosystem or building a solution out for yourself, you should be asking the provider what their ability to scale is.
Most likely, you’ll receive a positive answer—no one would ever say they can’t scale. But you should dig deep and find out for sure that as your business scales, they can continue to provide you with a decent level of service.
Secondly, scalability can also mean how the software performs over time as the data your business collects, generates, and stores grows. If your platform handles large data sets, you should know that the software can also grow and handle the load.
Finally, scalability can also mean the ability of the provider and their team to grow with your business. Will they be able to support you and your company as both their business and your business grow? There are many factors to consider in relation to growth, and unless you choose a partner that is as careful as you are in considering growth potential, you could be entering a world of frustration in the future.
Some people may laugh when I say that custom solutions offer a clearer vision of budget requirements, thus allowing for enhanced predictability. But I maintain that this is the case because of the reasons outlined above. There are simply too many variables not in your control when it comes to relying on off-the-shelf software.
The update cycle, for example, is not predictable. Updates can lead to downstream effects, such as plugins breaking or other cross-dependency issues.
With custom software, the things that often need to be predicted are ongoing server costs, monitoring expenses, and then whatever you want to budget to make additional improvements to your platform. In this way, you can invest as little or as much into your system as desired without the need to set aside budget just for updates or other unknowns that may occur and—more likely than not–cause more problems than they ultimately solve.
This country was founded on the principle that one should be able to control their own fate—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?
The same should apply to your software.
Inflexible off-the-shelf solutions only put a stranglehold on your workflows and stagnate the growth of your business, forcing you to bend on things that you should otherwise have absolute control over.
So on this Independence Day (yeah, remember our theme?!), liberate your company from the tyranny of off-the-shelf software. Consider a customized solution that will give you 100% control over the fate of your business and its technology. It’s the only way you can ensure that it will do everything you need it to do from day one, grow and evolve with your business, and remain secure in the ever-insecure digital frontier.