Blog Header

share this article:FacebookTwitterLinkedIn

Technology is more essential to day-to-day business operations as ever before. Making the right decisions on how to enhance your accounting, ERP, CRM or e-commerce systems are critical. As a business leader you are constantly weeding through different tools that oftentimes don’t meet all of the needs you have. So you’re faced with the decision to leverage adequate but less than perfect solutions or invest the money to get exactly what you want for now and the future.

Pros & Cons: Off-the-Shelf vs Building Custom Software


Off-the-shelf software is readily available, making it easy to get started. You’re probably familiar with many of these tools and use them to do business daily — create a Basecamp or QuickBooks account and you can start integrating into your business operations with relative ease. Common draws typically include:

  • Lower initial investment. The technology has already been developed.
  • Short-term gain. Less time to market. Integrate into your operations quickly.
  • They do what they say they will do — companies like yours have already leveraged for similar use cases.

Albeit convenient, off-the-shelf solutions aren’t catered to your unique business or industry and evaluating these tools is not an easy task. The first thing you need to define is what challenges need to be resolved and what you expect from the software solution. Then what are your must haves and what would be nice to have. In order to guide these conversations it’s handy to leverage a software consultant to help understand operational inefficiencies and guide you through your software solution options. They may even recommend a hybrid or phased approach that leverages both custom and off-the-shelf options.

This disadvantage(s) of this off-the-shelf approach, in addition to lack of customization, are costs incurred over time caused by:

  • Product evolution - features that are discontinued and require a custom solution to resolve or are added at additional cost but don’t provide value to your operation.
  • Imperfect fit - creates need to develop custom workarounds or leverage additional off-the-shelf tools to bridge functional gaps.
  • Need to work through large corporate customer service teams to understand and address operational interruptions, bugs or possible enhancements.
  • Software can be discontinued or increase monthly/annual fees reducing cost effectiveness over time.

TLDR: off-the-shelf options are typically viewed as the most convenient but may not provide the most long-term value.

Custom Software Development:

Obviously we’re a little biased but from our experience, custom software is significantly more collaborative from day one of your project kickoff. We work with you to help ​​determine your needs and define a path forward. All core features and roles are specified in advance, and because we leverage an agile process the software product can evolve as organizational circumstances or requirements change. Security can also be tailored to your organization and industry to address the risks you are most likely to encounter. You’ll have access to unique insights that can provide a competitive advantage.

Common indicators that you should consider consultation or custom software solution include:

  • Struggling to find the right off-the-shelf vendor.
  • You have explored operational efficiencies but not found a solution.
  • You need or have identified a potential competitive advantage.
  • You have time and/or financial incentive to develop a custom solution.

Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth Is:

We can tell you all of the reasons we believe custom development works but check out a few success stories from our clients:

Where to Start:

Still have questions about these approaches or the best way to get started? Reach out to our team at Shift.

This article was written by Kyle Hanson, Account Lead at Shift.