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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Off-the-shelf or bespoke software - How to decide

I have been approached by a client to build a project planning spreadsheet, but given the client's very general requirements, I have pointed him towards an off-the-shelf, on-line solution that will be a much more cost-effective solution for him. This got me to thinking about that choice.

My previous post on how to decide between a spreadsheet or a database made the assumption that you had already decided that you needed a custom solution, but how do you come to that conclusion.

I will take a similar approach to that previous post and list what I think are the key points to consider:

1. How unique is what I need?
Is your requirement something very specific to you or your business or is it quite generic, even if that is just in your industry? The more generic the requirement, the more likely an excellent solution already exists.

2. Do I have some very exacting requirements about how I want the need met?
In a similar vein to point 1, even if you have what appears to be a generic requirement, you may want it implemented in a particular way. We recently developed an on-line time-sheet system for a client because for their business had some very specific ways they wanted to keep time-sheets.

3. Is it possible, or practical, to change the process?
To get the best from an off-the-shelf product, it is better if you can adapt your processes to suit the way the software works. In many cases, this leads to an improvement in the process anyway - but sometimes the current process is key to the business, or a change would cause too much disruption. A bespoke solution can be tailored to the process.

4. How complex is my requirement?
This one really comes down to comparative cost and development time. For a simple requirement, a bespoke solution can often cost little more than an off-the shelf package and be implemented as quickly, but it can be tailored to your exact needs. The more complex the requirement, the more incentive there is to tap into (possibly) years of development that have already gone into an off-the-shelf package where the development costs are shared with the other users, than to pay to re-invent the wheel yourself.

5. What is my budget?
As ever, this is always going to be a factor. In most cases the off-the-shelf package will be the cheapest option, however do bear in mind any costs of tailoring your processes to fit (see point 3).

6. Ultimately, does the package I want exist?
If your answers to the other questions suggest that an off-the-shelf package would be best for you. This is only of any use if an off-the-shelf package exists. Alternatively, you may have just identified a business opportunity!

If you do feel that you need a bespoke solution (either spreadsheet or on-line database), then visit us at Spreadsheets by Email where we can provide you with a cost-effective, fixed price solution.

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