Custom software development has continued to play a major role in business growth, and not only in tech companies. Recent research indicates that the success of large companies is largely due to their use of in-house software, giving them a competitive edge.
Vox, a publishing company, opted for its own custom content management system instead of using inadequate systems that already existed. Walmart is known for its acquisition of tech companies and, judging by its sales growth over the last few years, this strategy is working.
Some might consider it a chicken-and-egg proposition: That you need to be big in the first place to invest in custom software. But the research indicates otherwise—it is the very fact of investing in IT, custom websites, custom mobile apps, and custom software that is driving company growth.
Why shouldn't the same be true of any small business in 2022?
The Advantages of Custom Software for Small Businesses.
There are seven distinct advantages:
1. Built to Solve Specific Problems
Every business is different. Even businesses in the same industry can have differing software needs. Regulatory factors play an important role here. Different industries are governed by different requirements. And differences in laws at state and country-level also mean that one-size-fits-all software often doesn't meet all of a business's custom requirements.
2. Custom Software is Highly Customizable
One of the most frustrating aspects of off-the-shelf software is its lack of customization. Some platforms have attempted to solve this by adding “plugin” functionality to their code, such as the blogging platform WordPress.
The result is usually like a spilled bowl of spaghetti, with code from one plugin conflicting with another, and most plugins not having the precise functionality you're seeking.
Often, companies will simply hire people to create a custom plugin for them to do precisely what they need—and so we're back to custom software development again.
Branding is another issue. Few software vendors offer white-labeling functionality so you can imbue your brand throughout the product. One of the advantages of custom software development is the ability to customize anything and give your in-house tool a 100% branded look and feel.
3. Custom Software is Easier to Manage and Update
Lack of regular updates is a common complaint of off-the-shelf software, particularly for smaller, more niche products. Sometimes software won't get updated unless a bug is widely reported, meaning that your specific issue won't get addressed.
Having a team of software developers who maintain well-documented code that is proprietary to your business is the surest way to ensure that software will be updated on your terms and not someone else's.
4. Custom Software Functions Specifically for You
Mass-market software vendors try to appeal to as large a market sector as possible. “Feature creep”—the addition of more and more features to a piece of software, far beyond its original scope—is so prevalent in the tech industry that it even has its own Wikipedia
As an example, consider how many features of Microsoft Word you actually use compared to the plethora of buttons available on the Ribbon. Microsoft's attempt to get people to use its seemingly endless array of features in its Office products by introducing this clunky Ribbon eventually fell to pieces. People just don't use all those additional features. They're neat, sure. But why be forced to pay for features you don't even need? Worse: Why pay for new versions when the most significant changes are purely aesthetic?
Custom software development means you get the features you need and nothing else. This cuts out costs and keeps things focused on your business's productivity, not on the software vendor's bottom line.
5. Custom Software is Easier to Scale
Once you are ready to scale your software and add new features, doing so is as simple as calling your custom software provider and getting it done. Because your software has been created in a hyper-focused way to what your business needs, adding new features doesn't require six months of planning because it might conflict with 34 other features that weren't necessary in the first place.
6. Custom Software Offers Future Profitability
Licensing out custom software is an excellent choice for monetizing your investment and adding an entirely new income stream to your business, no matter the industry you're in.
Vox Media not only runs its own in-house content management system, but it also started licensing that system to other publishers in 2017 as an additional revenue stream.
Walmart also started monetizing its in-house software by offering it to other companies in 2021.
Licensing software is easier than people think, provided the software was created with licensing in mind from the beginning. When getting your custom software developed, ensure that the developers understand your desire to license out the software so that they integrate the necessary licensing features into it. These features are not complicated but are essential to any properly licensable software. Such features include:
- Ability to update the software automatically.
- Ability to check the validity of a license.
- Code obscuring to ensure no reverse engineering is possible.
- Use of only proprietary code or appropriately licensed code that would not render the entire source code of the software open for use by anyone. There is nothing wrong with open-source software but it might prevent your software from being successfully licensed if it is included incorrectly.
7. Custom Software Allows Increased Security
Not only does WordPress power 40% of the web, but it is also the most
widely hacked system on the internet! What a nightmare!
For a small business, a security flaw leading to data breaches could mean the end of that business. Fines for data privacy violations can be crippling.
Off-the-shelf software is more prone to hacks because it is designed to ensure mass adoption, which means that the user experience must be made as simple as possible even if it is at the cost of security.
In contrast, business owners can simply train employees individually on their custom software until the employees know completely how to use it. It might mean a slightly longer runway to getting each person entirely up to speed with the in-house system, but the payoff is fewer security risks as a result of some user-experience features designed for people who are not too familiar with technology.
For example, two-factor authentication—the need to have your mobile phone with you and verify your login to a website through a one-time security code received as a text message—is optional or non-existent on many websites. Your custom software application can make it mandatory. You could also add additional security for people who disburse payments at your organization. Sure, it might be a bit of a pain to go through hoops just to pay a creditor. But it's a worse pain to become the victim of financial fraud.
In short, the degree of security of your custom software system is your choice. You decide how much you want the software locked down or not. Off-the-shelf software doesn't offer that extra flexibility.
What are the Alternatives to Custom Software Development?
Off-the-shelf software is software that is produced for the masses and is usually purchased outright or licensed for use. It is rarely customizable.
You might think that some off-the-shelf software is pointless to create in-house, such as word processing software. But these days it is possible to quickly develop a word processing tool that integrates more tightly with other tools in your business than Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
There really is no limit to what custom software can do in 2022. Development technology has advanced so much that custom development costs are a fraction of what they used to be, and often end up being far cheaper than buying off-the-shelf software, especially if you have hundreds of employees and need to license every seat.
“Low-code” refers to “customized” software that can be automatically generated through drag-and-drop interfaces without knowing much (if any) programming.
Low-code is fun to tinker with and somewhat acceptable for simple applications but falls short for more advanced features. Also, when you do need to customize more deeply, the low-code platform might pose more of a problem because the underlying code might not be entirely accessible to a professional programmer.
Low-code is an option for one-person shows who need something quick and easy. However, it is unlikely to give more serious businesses any major advantage over their competition.
Putting it simply,
Custom software development puts you entirely in control of your business processes. You can analyze your competition and tweak your in-house tools down to its smallest detail. It's time to create a system that makes your business run faster and far more efficient than your competitors.