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When talking with business owners I frequently hear them wanting software that is custom developed for their business. Here are a few common reasons for thinking they need custom software.

My company/industry is Special

Most of us know we’re special. Our parents have told us that for years.

However, in my experience businesses at their core are similar: they buy something (time and/or material), they do something with it then they sell it to the customer.

What is different though are the processes and systems used to do these things. This is where things become very interesting.

My Processes are Unique

When looking at processes I have found some interesting processes. Some make a lot of sense and some don’t, they’ve become the process and the company habits.

Some of the processes were designed/developed many years in the past and those who designed the process are long gone yet the process was retained, and no one knows why the processes are the way they are.

In other cases, processes were designed to work around a real or perceived weakness of the software in place at the time. These solutions were developed years ago and the workaround has become the process, I regularly help people streamline their processes as we implement improved systems by reviewing the following with you and your team:

Regardless of the process, the questions I ask are:

  1. Is the process core to your value-add? Does it help make your business unique?
  2. Does the process benefit the customer or the business?

If the process is one of the cores of your value-add then that process must be protected. The same is true if it is what makes your business unique.

However, if the process does not truly benefit you or the customer wouldn’t it be better to change the process rather than spend a lot of money creating software to solve a problem that could be designed away?

If the process doesn’t benefit you, wouldn’t it be better to change the process rather than spend a lot of money to solve a problem that could be designed away?

Software is a tool

Most businesses have many tools they use to create or deliver value to their customers. Some use trucks, some use machine tools, some use hand tools and others use software. Would you spend money custom designing these tools?

I met a junk removal company that decided their unique value proposition was that they were going to weigh the junk they were removing and charge for the weight removed. Did they go out and deign and build their own truck? No, they did not. They took an off-the-shelf truck then performed small modifications vs the value of the truck to meet their specific needs. Now they have the best of both worlds.

Some business owners think they are saving money by building and maintaining their own software. Unfortunately, the reality is that they are just spending the money in different places. With custom software you need to buy a license for the development tools and equipment. You need employ one or more people to develop, maintain and enhance the software then once the software has been designed it needs to be tested and deployed.

Congratulations! You have just built something. Unfortunately, just like most things we build, software is a depreciating asset that needs ongoing maintenance.

Risks of Custom Software

The technology world is moving incredibly fast. Change is constant and you either keep up or you are left behind while your competitors make changes.

Over the years I have encountered a number of companies using custom software that hasn’t been updated and can’t be updated. It can’t be updated because the technology used to create it was retired. Visual Foxpro is an example of this. That software was made end-of-life 13 years ago but it’s still in use. Another business was using a Windows server version that was 15 years old and no longer supported but they couldn’t update the server because the software wouldn’t work on a newer server.

All this old technology then becomes a business risk instead of a business advantage.

In the last year, many businesses have had to pivot to survive. Does custom software help or hinder your ability to pivot if that becomes necessary? It probably can be changed to support the pivot but that takes time and investment.

What about the developer? Custom software is often developed and maintained by a single developer. Now, your solution architecture, design and coding are limited to what is within the skillset and experience of that person. Are they constantly updating and enhancing their skills and knowledge to better support you?

How capable is the development team with leveraging new technology? Are you willing to invest in the new technology?

You have to really hope nothing happens to that person or they retire or move on as few developers will pick up an existing system and if they do, you spend a lot of money while they figure out what the previous person did and they ‘re-do’ the software in their vision. This is why after 25 years of ERP solution experience I only deal with proven and mainstream configurable ERP solutions that are customizable to your business so you aren’t tied to me or any individual developer.

Best of Both Worlds

Today’s software world has thousands of solutions. There’s a solution for virtually every problem a business might encounter. If you look hard enough you can usually find something that was designed to scratch the same itch you have.

Another alternative is to find software that gives you a solid foundation but on which you can build a solution that fits your needs. This is configurable or customizable software.

Configurable software is software that can be configured and adapted to meet many different needs. It sits in that middle ground between off the shelf software and custom software.

If you want to know whether there some configurable software that will help your business run like a well-oiled machine, get in touch.

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