Suits and software are both used in business and both can be ‘off-the-shelf’ (COTS – commercial off-the-shelf) or tailor made. Deciding which is best for your business comes down to a combination of cost, usage and needs.
Invest in defining your needs
It is tempting to immediately turn to COTS solutions. The features are already defined and comparing one product to another is straightforward. Even if you suspect that you want a COTS solution, investing sufficient upfront effort into defining your requirements will still be worth the time.
You may have some key needs that are not supported by standard solutions. While it is worth establishing familiarity with the features that COTS solutions have to offer, it can be easy to be taken in by a sales pitch for features that you never truly needed. Once you have properly established your requirements, it will start to become clearer if a COTS solution will adequately meet your business needs.
Functionality for simple systems (e.g. tracking employee time on a project, or monitoring customer interactions via email) is unlikely to need to deviate from the norm, so COTS products are likely to provide the most cost-effective option. On the other hand, COTS supply chain management systems may be insufficient for a complex supply chain and a custom solution may be preferable.
Think about the future
When setting out requirements it is important to consider scalability as well as your current requirements. Some cloud-based COTS solutions are reasonably adaptable as business needs evolve. But if expected growth is not considered at the requirements stage it is easy to be caught out and find that what was previously a good solution will be outgrown in a couple of years.
If a COTS solution is later discovered to be unsuitable, a switch between systems is then required. Besides the disruption caused to the business, this scenario often works out to be significantly more expensive than a custom, scalable build would have been at the start. If your business needs are going to evolve, well-designed custom software can be adapted, modified and updated quickly to meet changing business needs. Updates can also be made incrementally in small stages, minimising disruption.
Consider price vs cost
On the surface COTS will always appear cheaper. The basic software development work has already been done and the vendor is usually already investing in continued system development. The development cost of core systems is shared by all of the companies using the software.
Once you consider the extra time your employees will potentially need to spend using a system which is not tailored to your business, COTS may not always represent the better investment. Missing features or inefficient processes can result in quietly losing years of worker productivity.
A tailored solution is likely to be leaner, providing precisely the functionality required and avoiding the need to pay for unnecessary features. A custom built solution gives a business more control over the build process, allowing it to specify its own software requirements and develop bespoke functionality that can evolve and adapt in-line with the business.
COTS normally requires a lower upfront investment, and this can force the hand of some businesses lacking capital. But the ROI of a tailor-made solution may be worth it when all factors are considered: the IP ownership of a custom build can add intrinsic value to a business.
Think outside the box!
For complex systems the choice between COTS and bespoke is not always binary. Often the most cost effective solutions could be to blend the two, using COTS elements for business areas with standard functionality and custom integrations and dashboards for more dynamic systems.
This hybrid model represents a third way in required capital and upfront time investment. COTS with a custom integrations or dashboards are usually going to be significantly quicker and cheaper to implement than a complete build. This can also help to reduce disruption and may have the advantage that your staff already have experience using some of the software.
Taking the best route for you
Fundamentally the decision should revolve around analysis of your business needs and whether a suitable solution is already available. At Amdaris we always work with our customers to fully understand their unique business needs, and help them navigate the difficult decision between custom software or ready-made commercial solutions.
Get in touch to find out which solution is right for you.