Bespoke vs Off-the-shelf systems

It’s worth taking a minute to discuss the relative benefits of bespoke versus off-the-shelf software, as you will almost certainly come across suppliers who’ll promise to build you a custom system that does exactly what you need, and at the same time vendors who’ve already built a system that they say does exactly what you need. Here’s a balanced view of both.


The great advantage of bespoke software is that it will work exactly as you want it to. Rather than a system that supports what everyone else in your industry does, most likely with some compromises on your part, you get a system that supports and enhances your competitive advantages. It can also be a good option if you can’t find something that does what you need it to.

The downside can be cost. Although there are plenty of companies capable of delivering bespoke software relatively cheaply, there are no freebies: you’ll have to pay for every enhancement. It’s unlikely that you’re going to get an email from your supplier one morning telling you about the great new feature in the latest version.


By contrast, off-the-shelf software, especially where it runs on the supplier’s servers, can and should be constantly updated, so you get all the benefits of the vendor’s R&D cycle. You also get the benefit of their initial investment in development, so the price you pay is much lower than if it had been built from scratch. Don’t forget that this isn’t the final cost though, as you need to factor in time (and any third party costs) to migrate to the software, as well as integrating it with your other systems. The negative trade-off is that you don’t get the flexibility that a bespoke system gives you, and included in the price is likely to be a lot of functionality that you don’t and will never need.

Off-the-shelf software has long been the sensible choice at the corporate/enterprise end of the market, but up until a couple of years ago the majority of systems targeted at the SME end tended to be desktop based, clunky and not always reliable. This has really changed, and there is now a huge range of options across the board. So for most businesses, the best choice is a combination of off-the-shelf software with some customisation and some bespoke work done on the integration between them.

And while we’re here, a quick plug. What we’re working towards with our App Framework is the best of both worlds – bespoke systems built out of lots of components that have already been made, so you get the flexibility without the massive cost.

Coming up, we’ll look at specific types of systems your business is likely to need: CRM, CMS and Facebook, Operations management, Collaboration software, Accounting, Stock and inventory.