Let us start with admitting that custom-made is classy and elegant. It delivers the right fit for our requirements. We feel good and happy when anything is built to match our taste and liking.
Custom-made is pricey and time consuming. This is why we tend to look for alternatives. We go for pre-fabricated or mass-produced products and bring down costs.
While mass-production makes good sense for business, for the consumers it is akin to a compromise.
Mass produced goods do not cater to individual expectations.
This is true for anything that is created or built, including software products. A product built with generalized objectives paints every organization with the same brush. Organizational differentiation and uniqueness are sacrificed at the altar of generalization.
IT buyers have often faced this dilemma of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) versus custom built (Bespoke) software solution. There are pros and cons for both the approaches.
With technological progress does the balance tilt towards one of the two?
To answer this let us look at the evolution of software development in a little more detail. In the early days developing software was exotic, costly and time consuming. Any application development initiative required elaborate planning, budgetary allocations and an army of skilled coders.
This has continued up until recently when the commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software gained popularity with the promise of democratizing digitalization. The decision making for organizations came down to "Budget Friendliness" and compromises were made.
The SaaS revolution and the Internet and Cloud revolutions that preceded it, accelerated adoption of readily available software solutions in business as well as intra-company operations. Readymade solutions took off. So much so that "force-fitting" was no longer an anathema.
There are instances where standardization helps. These are cases when buying commercial-off-the-shelf makes sense.
Let us look at some of the most common reasons given for buying commercial-off-the-shelf software :
1. Commercial-off-the-shelf offers speed of implementation. Helps organizations go-to-market faster with their offerings when compared to implementing a custom solution.
2. Cost of development is shared across buyers, hence is lesser than custom built products.
3. Making up for the lack of skills to build custom products. Business knowledge as well as coding skills are rare and expensive.
4. COTS is usually a standardized process implementation or business process encapsulation. Implementing the product and using it ensures adherence to compliance and regulatory requirements.
5. Lack of clarity of the end state of a product forces organisations to avoid risks and adopt COTS.
6. COTS lets organizations focus on their respective core competencies.
With Agile development methodology and rapid prototyping the concerns around 'lack of clarity of the end state of product' are being addressed. Sprints ensure that the effort is in the right direction.
It is worth noting that most of the reasons given for choosing COTS have to do with cost, time and skills.
Let us now look at reasons given in favor of a custom built product:
1. Fully matches requirements of an organization as requirements are the basis of building the product.
2. Allows organizations to keep their trade secrets in-house.
3. Allows process and technologically differentiated offerings by organizations.
4. Freedom to prioritize feature enhancements and product upgrades. Zero dependency on external product vendors and their product roadmap.
In the past few years there has been a trend away from custom built software because commercial-off-the-shelf promises benefits of outsourcing and lets businesses focus on their core competence.
It should be noted that commercial-off-the-shelf often creates dependency and takes away organizational innovation. Successful product vendors have their own product updates and feature enhancement plans. Buyers find it difficult to influence these plans. They are invested and locked in and cannot move away to other products easily.
Many organizations buy COTS and try to force-fit to their needs by overdoing configurations. There are many cases where a popular and expensive COTS product was implemented and eventually abandoned for only partially meeting business requirements. Many CRM products meet this fate. They are often complex to use and difficult to upgrade.
As mentioned earlier, the most common reasons for choosing COTS are savings around:
What if these three reasons get addressed and no longer remain a worry? Would the balance tilt in favor of custom built?
Let us look at some of the new technology trends that are changing the whole approach to application development.
1. Visual Modeling Tools and Drag and Drop Interfaces are now available to non-coders to implement applications without coding.
2. Application development platforms offer Rapid Prototyping that helps keep a check on idea implementation at every step. This ensures progress in the right direction. Rapid prototyping ensures that mistakes do not become expensive by providing the ability to take small steps and make measured progress.
3. Encapsulation and abstractions of oft-used components are available to be used and speed up application development.
4. Modern application development platforms also offer an end-to-end integrated environment for quick implementation of the idea and production deployment. All that is required to develop, build, test and release in production is on one single platform and can be operated by one single owner if need be.
The above features are an integral part of a low-code application development platform.
Low-code offers the goodness of custom development as well as commercial-off-the-shelf. It lets organizations develop their own systems and features. With low-code anyone in the organization can contribute to the development. Like COTS it lets organizations focus on their core competencies by limiting the time required for application development. It has all the goodness of COTS at a fraction of the cost.
Low-code is a boon for application development and will surely boost it. More and more companies are already adopting low-code application development for the benefits it offers.
According to Gartner, 65% of application development will be through low-code platforms by 2024. About three-fourths of enterprises will have at least 4 low-code platforms to meet specific application development needs by the same time.
Your organization needs to chart out a low-code/no-code strategy to remain competitive.
Tell us if you would like to build custom applications or buy off the shelf.