We live in an era where mass production is the norm. Going custom is not exactly “in”. Our consumer-driven society requires everything to happen quickly. We don’t have time to wait to get what we want. If we don’t see what we’re looking for on the store shelf, we immediately go somewhere else to find it. In this day and age, who has their clothes custom-tailored? If you do, it’s most likely because you have specific needs. Even in the real estate industry, custom is no longer fashionable. I live in an old neighbourhood where all the houses are radically different one from the other. The new districts now being developed are dotted with nearly identical homes. I have friends who live in such neighbourhoods. And I can only find their house by checking the address or by looking for a small telltale sign like the presence of their car or a basketball net in the driveway. Is it because their housing needs are identical? I doubt it. I think they accept compromises. Does your business have the same software needs as the others? Are you making compromises?
Application software vs. operating systems
Software falls into two main categories: operating systems and application software. The operating system is the part of the software that runs when a computer boots up and fulfils all the basic functions. Known operating systems include Windows for PCs and Mac OS for Apple computers. They are the starting point for installing and running application software such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), Internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, etc.), and games. Why do I feel the need to talk to you about all of this? All the software programs that I listed are examples of mass-produced software. These programs are purchased “off the shelf” (i.e. they are the same for everyone). They have their purpose, as they accomplish general tasks that are the same in just about every field (e.g. word processing). When the time comes to manage your more specific needs, however, these software programs rapidly reach their limit. This is when you have to look elsewhere.
Making operations profitable with custom software
When people talk about custom software, they are referring to application software developed to meet specific needs. These programs are often unique or they are comparable to other programs but they contain features that are unique. The objective of using a software program to accomplish a task is of course to increase the profitability of the process. Using the software application must require less effort than performing the task manually. Which leads me to present both categories of software that allow greater profitability: software programs that help generate or increase revenues and programs that help cut expenditures. Ultimately, if the software application can do both at the same time, it will be all the more profitable.
Increasing revenue with custom software
There are a number of ways to use software to increase your business’ income. Basically, there are software programs for online sales, which provide better access to a constantly growing pool of buyers. By showcasing your products online, you can facilitate the decision-making and purchasing process. In this category, there are software programs that I would call “almost-ready-to-use.” They mainly offer basic functions such as product, inventory, purchasing and customer management. Often, these features are developed in a very basic and general manner. Such programs might cover some of your needs, but in all likelihood, there will be gaps to fill. I will discuss the opportunities in this area a little further down.
Reducing expenses with custom software
In the industrial sector, processes must be automated in order to increase productivity. Be it to automate an assembly line or optimize the route of a sales representative, software programs have become a necessity. By reducing downtime or increasing speed of execution, they help drive down the production and delivery costs of your product. In the area of cost reduction, there also are all types of internal management programs: staff management, quality control, process monitoring, management reports, etc.
Determining one’s needs
Software exists to bridge gaps. It is very important to properly define one’s needs in order to orient the development of the software application needed to fulfil the requirement. If I wish to fill the space under the staircase in order to add storage, I could go out and buy one or more pieces of furniture and attempt to reduce lost space or I could have a storage unit custom-made. I might be able to have a functional solution with furniture sold on the market. However, if I have something custom developed I am sure to have a better solution. The same holds true for custom software development. The software programs on the market are there to fill the most common needs based on standard contexts. Custom software, on the other hand, allows for a better interplay with the program’s environment.
Even if a software program exists on the market that meets your needs, it will surely offer a number of features that you don’t need and that will make using the desired features more difficult. Conversely, custom software will offer precisely those features that you do require. Hence, the idea of properly identifying one’s needs. The beauty of custom software is that you can always add new features. Therefore, even if your needs have not been entirely defined at the beginning of the project, you can still initiate the development of your custom software. If development is properly managed, you will be able to participate in its design and add or modify features throughout the project. Today, “Agile” software development methods consider change to be an inherent part of the software design process. These methods use short cycles and seek rapid feedback in order to steer the development throughout the process. Such an approach to development allows the focus to be maintained on what is most valuable at the current time.
Range of options
In the world of software, there is a wide array of opportunities ranging from software bought off the shelf to software completely designed and developed to order. You can find an overview below.
Such software includes those programs found on store shelves, such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, Sage, etc. These programs required hundreds if not thousands of hours of development in order to offer all the features that they have today. If somebody would decide today to design a customized word-processing program, I am sure he or she would never turn a profit on his or her investment. This responsibility is best left to companies that already own this type of software. Therefore, ready-to-use software will always have its place in the software ecosystem.
As good as they are, ready-to-use software programs are limited by the scope of their features. On the other hand, most allow for a certain degree of integration in one way or another. For example, if we take the Office series, Word can be used to write a letter and a list of names can be integrated from an Excel spreadsheet to do a mass mailing personalized to the name of each recipient. The integration features in software programs allow them to concentrate on their strengths and to exploit those of other programs. Integrating two software programs can usually be done without requiring any specialized development. However, it is sometimes wise to resort to custom development to facilitate and automate integration.
Scaling existing software
Scalability is a feature offered by some software. This refers to the possibility of adding external features to software by incorporating them into the program as if they were an inherent part of it. These add-ins are installed automatically, as they are included in the software application. Microsoft Office contains several add-ins (e.g. one that can be used to draw mind maps, another that gives access to a dictionary directly from Word).
Some of the most sophisticated software programs go so far as to allow their features to be used to get them to perform other tasks. This is the case for the Microsoft Dynamics platform, for instance, which offers an array of software that can serve as a basis to create something truly adapted to your needs. Notably, Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers a platform to manage your client relationships, products, and sales. Although the basic features are sufficient for most cases, it is nevertheless possible to modify the data and operation structures to cover those aspects that are not.
At the other end of the spectrum is completely custom development. This solution is often used by organizations that see a competitive advantage in having their own proprietary software. It is also employed in highly specific fields where ready-to-use software is scarce or non-existent. Financial institutions, insurers, and manufacturing companies often resort to this type of software for a host of reasons. Cost savings, increasing productivity, and the presence of their corporate image on the market justify their investment in custom software.
Having a software program custom-developed must be taken seriously. There are many advantages, but also obstacles that must be overcome or that are best avoided. Before making this choice, be sure to have a good understanding of your needs and choose a reliable partner that will support you throughout the process. Don’t only be interested in the final result. Take the time to discuss your real, fundamental needs. Too often, I receive requests from clients who ask me to develop their solution. Each and every time, I bring them back to their basic needs. And very often, the final solution is quite different from what they thought they wanted, but it has the merit of meeting their real needs.
Find out how Pyxis /studio can develop your custom software. We specialize in custom development for clients seeking unique solutions and wanting to maximize the value of their investment. For over 14 years, our development team has demonstrated its Agility, creativity, collaborative spirit and unwavering commitment to our clients.