Certified Microsoft Partner
Why off-the-shelf solutions fall short of your software development project
30 Jun, 18 | illumisoftadmin
As a successful business owner, maximizing resources is undoubtedly a top priority. That includes resourcefulness in business solutions. Off-the-shelf solutions might be your most affordable option, but what if there’s nothing on the market that exactly fits your business needs?
We understand the frustration of working with an off-the-shelf solution that limits the scope of your business tech capabilities. It’s like shopping for new clothes. You can either save time and money by browsing for outfits that most closely match and flatter your body type. Or, you can get your clothes custom-made by a tailor. Everyone knows tailors are more expensive. That’s why department stores and online retailers are great options that keep you clothed and cute.
The clothes analogy can only take you so far. Software is infinitely more complex than a suit-and-tie. So before you give up on finding a custom solution that fits your budget and schedule, first consider what you might be missing if you go with an off-the-shelf product.
Off-the-shelf solutions are one size fits all; businesses are not
Let’s revisit our clothes analogy. The options you see in a department store offer a limited number of sizes for a nearly unlimited list of body types. Off-the-shelf solutions are just like that. It’s a single product that’s meant to fit as many businesses as possible.
Off-the-shelf solutions simply can’t accommodate for all of the different ways you do business. If your business is competing with 19 similar companies in the marketplace, the assumption that an off-the-shelf product is making is that you all work the same way. That’s just fundamentally not true for most markets. Every company needs to have some sort of differentiator to stand out. If they don’t, they’re just going to be stagnant.
There are definitely some markets, however, that are like that. If the problem you’re seeking to solve isn’t critical, or if you’re satisfied with mediocrity in an area in your business, then maybe off-the-shelf solutions are a good fit. But if you’re wanting to make a difference — if you’re wanting to stand out among your competitors — that means you’re likely doing something different. You’re trying to find better ways to do things. Just by that very nature, a one-size-fits all product isn’t going to fit.
You might think your off-the-shelf solution is a perfect match; we bet it’s probably not
Take TPM software, for example. TPM is a third-party logistics software for trucking companies to keep track of all their shipments and orders. There are already a number of products that are really popular in that field. But just by the very nature of the fact that you’re using TPM software, it means that you’re operating at the same level as all of your competitors that are also using that same off-the-shelf solution.
Just by definition, there’s no way that you can differentiate in the areas that you utilize off-the-shelf solutions because there’s no uniqueness.
But as a trucking company, what if you think TPM software is giving you just enough for your software needs? There’s something to be said for that. After all, any software is better than no software at all.
If you’re doing everything manually, moving to TPM software is probably a good step up for you because you’re already massively inefficient. Adopting off-the-shelf software will be a gain in efficiency.
So, at that point you have to make a judgment call. Do you want to just simply catch up to your competitors? Or do you want to really carve out a niche — a leadership position — in the market? The answer to those questions really depends on the ambitions of your business.
Why play catch-up with your competition when you can skip ahead to the front of the line
Just by its nature, a company that ships bricks is completely different than a company that ships food. Not completely different, but there are lots of considerations. You don’t have to refrigerate bricks to ship them, for instance. Your TPM software probably needs to take that into consideration. That’s just one simple difference, let alone all the ways that businesses might operate internally.
Food needs to be shipped quickly or it will spoil. Bricks might be more in demand during the spring. Trucks shipping food deal with different weight requirements compared with trucks shipping bricks. So there’s all sorts of little considerations that may or may not be considered by — or even factored into — off-the-shelf solutions.
And still, even then, all you’re doing is playing catch up with your competition when you use off-the-shelf solutions. You’re in this level playing field if anybody else is using that software. You have no differentiator.
Custom software, on the other hand, is a little bit different because it accounts for the fact that your business is unique. As a result, custom shops like us will form a partnership with you and work with you to try to figure out what elements in software are truly valuable for your business.
Custom solutions could make one little change to your business practices that standard off-the-shelf software doesn’t consider. This might give you a unique competitive advantage because you deviated from businesses stuck on at OTS product.
Let’s take our trucking software example, for instance. Maybe you drastically reduce spoilage with a slight change in your process. If you’re using off-the-shelf software, there’s no good way to facilitate that change in process. Because, let’s be honest. If an off-the-shelf solution gives you any “unique” advantage, everybody else using that solution will also adopt that change.
That’s what makes custom software options beneficial for your business. You have someone who’s focused directly on you and how you work and trying to help you form unique competitive advantages in your marketplace through technology.
Off-the-shelf solutions can be limiting to a client’s specific/particular needs
Let’s say you currently utilize an off-the-shelf solution, but you have a unique part of your business process that needs to be worked in somehow. In that case, the only way for you to continue using that unique part of your process is to do it outside of the off-the-shelf system and then figure out how to re-incorporate it after the fact.
For example, you might have a 10-step process facilitated by your off-the-shelf software. But then you find a unique competitive advantage on step seven. So you might use the off-the-shelf system for steps one through six — then you do your own thing on step seven — but then you have to figure out to get back into the off-the-shelf system for steps 8 through 10.
A custom software shop, on the other hand, could handle steps one through 10. Vendors like us can bend and flex with you. Since we’re a technology partner, we always have an eye on what your software is doing. If you decide that you found a better way to do step seven, but it requires changes, then we do it.
Off-the-shelf solutions limit your business, but custom software is as limitless as your vision
Off-the-shelf systems can be really limiting because they tend to focus on just one little part of your process.
For instance (back to our trucking example), maybe one piece of software is all about how to acquire loads to be shipped. And then another piece of software is focused on actually assisting in the shipment of the load. And then ANOTHER piece of software is all about tracking the invoicing and other overhead for the shipment that you just did.
That means you have multiple systems that just focus on little parts, but you need all of them in order to facilitate your business processes. And that means you need to figure out a way to get data from one system to the other. Sometimes they play nicely together, but other times, you have somebody that’s writing the same data into two or three different systems, just to move things along.
OTS systems lock you into one rigid way of doing business
Sometimes, certain off-the-shelf solutions try to do everything end to end for your business needs. When that happens, however, they typically have a very rigid structure of how they do it end to end. By its nature, if the software could handle all possible variations in how businesses would want to perform their shipments, the software would be really confusing and unwieldy in the end.
Not only that, it would also be expensive for the off-the-shelf solution company to produce. OTS solution companies typically operate off of a subscription model. So they get your monthly payment and that’s it. It just doesn’t make financial sense for them to make a change to their software that would only help you.
Plus, if you do anything different to the off-the-shelf system, you have to figure out a way to gracefully depart from their opinion and then reintegrate after you get done with your particular differentiator.
Off-the-shelf solutions are just that: a solution; a custom software shop gives you a partnership
Companies that offer off-the-shelf systems seek to produce software that as many people as possible can use. That means they are always looking for the lowest common denominator, so to speak. They might ask themselves, “What is consistent across all of these companies so that I can only make something that everyone can use?” It’s very costly for these companies to develop a feature that only one client uses. So what they’re trying to do is write their code once and have as many people as possible sign up to use it.
Back to our trucking example. A software vendor might see 20 businesses in the shipping industry that it thinks would utilize an off-the-shelf solution. The vendors know 18 of those businesses might facilitate a certain part of the business process the same way. That vendor knows it needs to write that certain feature to adhere to the 18 of those businesses that do it the same way.
That OTS company will continue to focus only on the things that make every trucking business the same in the market. But what about those other two companies that do that one step differently? They could be behind the times, in which case they’re eventually just going to lose because the rest of the market found a better way to do what they’re doing.
An OTS vendor probably doesn’t care about the other two companies who do things differently. It probably isn’t interested because gaining business with those clients make only two potential subscriptions. Rather, their interest is in the 18 trucking companies that are all doing their processes the same way. Remember, an off-the-shelf vendor just wants to write something once and sell it as many times as possible.
That’s definitely not a partnership.
You’re spending money on software anyway; why not pay for a partnership?
We think business that lacks partnership is a bad thing. When one of those 18 companies sees the other 17 companies doing business one way, but it found a better way to do it, so what? That business would still be stuck using that rigid off-the-shelf software that only works one way. Sure, that shipping company could appeal to their OTS vendor, asking them to change their software to accommodate that differentiating process. More than likely, the producer of the off-the-shelf system would say, “No, why would I change it for you? It’s just not in my financial interest to do so.”
With custom software shops, we partner with you to figure out how you do business. We might ask you: Could you be doing it better? If we made software this way, could it facilitate a better way to do business?
When we enter into a partnership with any of our clients, our one and only motivator is to write software that best facilitates the way that a company does business. We really have no interest in what everybody else in your market is doing — outside of figuring out ways to help you beat them. Our one and only focus is on you and improving the way that your business is operating. We also look at your competition to see what you could be doing better.
Both sides benefit from a partnership because it builds lifelong, mutually beneficial commitment
The first thing we do with any of our clients is to sit down with them and learn their business. Our goal is to be an extension of our clients, and we have to understand what they’re trying to do, how they do it, where they fit into the marketplace, all of these sorts of things, in order for us to truly provide value.
Obviously, that’s a very long-term goal because it’s a big task.
Sometimes, we like to make the analogy that many prospective clients just want to pave the cow path, so to speak. They might have a dirt path that the cows made, and what they think they need is for someone to come pave it so we can walk along the path more quickly. That’s really what so many off-the-shelf systems do. But what we do is partner with those clients and say, “Well, instead of riding your bicycle down a paved cow path, how about we build you a jet or a highway?”
The idea is that we get to know them as a business and then realize their true software needs. To put it another way, prospective clients might have seen that all of their top competitors have paved their cow paths. So now they need to pave their cow path. We think there’s a better way. If you want to get ahead in your market, get a jet.
That’s where the partnership comes in. If we didn’t have that partnership mindset, there’s no way that we could come to that conclusion.
Excellent custom software is where tech experts meet with your business expertise
Partnerships in software development make agility in business decisions possible. Because our focus is just solely on the individual client, we can pivot with them as quickly as their needs change.
Instead of having to tackle multiple systems that businesses would have to figure out how to integrate, we figure out a holistic solution for you. As a result, our clients gain a lot of internal efficiencies. Plus, they’re not trying to figure out how to make a bunch of different pieces fit together that were never meant to fit together. It could even possibly reduce redundancy.
But the big thing is that we bring a technology expertise to our clients’ markets. They are undoubtedly the experts of their market. And we are experts in technology. So the goal is to merge these two things and for us to do everything we can to figure out the most vitally important aspects of your market and figure out a way that we can facilitate and ideally transform how you approach that market by utilizing technology.