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When is it time for a custom software application?



With so many apps on the market, business leaders seldom think about building a custom software application themselves. However, what do you do when a COTS (Commercial off-the-shelf) software doesn’t fit with what you need done? We find this happens especially with businesses that have sophisticated data collection processes with elaborate spreadsheets built over several years. These tried-and-true documents may have worked in the past but haven’t scaled as your business has grown. Transforming your established processes to fit a particular technology is not an innovative idea, rather it is an unwise decision that could handcuff your company to rely on a particular technology. So how do you take advantage of the efficiencies technology can provide when nothing works for your business?


Custom software fits exactly to the feature set you are looking for in an application. You can scale the custom application as required and integrate into software your organization is currently using. Custom software applications do usually have a higher upfront cost then COTS software, however, over time it is a cost savings as you own the software and pay no license fees.


Custom Software’s Return on Investment (ROI)


Ultimately the decision is about value. The cost of the custom application versus the compromise you make accepting the functionality and features of a COTS software. Business leaders struggle with defining the ROI of custom software. Why? Because typically the cost of a custom application is not known, whereas you know the cost of COTS software. There is a solution to this problem. It starts with finding the right vendor with a process that can give you a high-level estimate about the software you want to create.


What you should expect from a custom software development firm


Knowing a high-level cost of the custom application allows you to better determine the ROI. An experienced software development company should be able to give you a cost range for what you want to create. Now of course, there is a process they will need to go through with you, but the more information you can share, the better estimate they can give you.


Say for instance your company has been collecting and processing information via spreadsheets. In the beginning this made perfect sense as the information might have been relatively small. However, as the company has grown, the ability to collect the information and disseminate any insight out of the information is cumbersome and time consuming. A good custom software development firm will follow certain steps to give you an accurate quote. You should expect the following steps from the software development firm:

  1. A review of your spreadsheet(s) as well as a discussion with you about your process of data collection. The more documentation you have as well as the more information you share about your data collection process will aid in getting a better estimate.

  2. Depending on complexity, the creation of a workflow to ensure all parties have a mutual understanding of the process. You may even be surprised where there are gaps and internal infancies that surface during this exercise.

  3. A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) document, which should include the business need, project scope, assumptions, and the work breakdown of tasks with estimated hours for each task.

  4. A review of the WBS to ensure your vision and assumptions are correct. The development firm might then need to adjust the estimate based on any changes.

Now you have a high-level estimate or estimate range based on what you want to develop. Depending on the development firm, they might want to charge on a Time and Materials (T&M) basis, or they might offer you a fixed bid quote. You should expect a fixed bid quote to be a bit higher than a T&M quote, as you are shifting the project risk over to the development firm. Don’t forget to plan for the future. Technology is always changing, and your custom software will need regular maintenance to stay current and to protect your investment. Check with your development firm to understand how to partner in the future.


Pulling the trigger and developing your custom software application


Now you have the information you need to make an educated decision between developing a custom software application or COTS software. Moving forward with a custom software application allows you to run and scale your business without compromising what you need the software to do. The key is finding the right software development firm to give you insights into the cost and timeline of developing the application. Scalesology can help.


Let’s start a conversation about how to develop the right application that scales with your business. Our experienced team will help you with determining the impact to your businesses’ bottom line. We have transformed companies from copiously tabbed and cross-referenced spreadsheets to slick custom web applications that integrated with CRM, ERP and financial enterprise level systems. Contact us today, and let’s figure out that custom application you have been waiting to build.