softwareAs modern businesses grow, they move to become increasingly reliant on software to manage their processes and data. And because IT can deliver greater efficiencies, your choice of software could have major implications for the functioning of your business.

As you investigate the available tools, you will find that one major choice will be whether to pick an off-the-shelf package, or to have a bespoke application developed specifically for your business. So how do you choose?

Bespoke software

Designed to your exact specifications, bespoke software can be mapped exclusively to the processes your business uses to operate. Your entire workflow can be recreated in software, allowing you to capture and display the right data, at the right time, to keep processes moving smoothly. Common tasks can also be automated, helping to reduce the administrative overheads of your processes.

Bespoke software is particularly useful for organisations that have complicated workflows or manufacturing processes, and who require maximum flexibility for their IT systems.

But because bespoke software requires either heavy customisation, or fully building from scratch, it is generally quite expensive. Any changes to operations will need to be redeveloped in the software – again at some significant cost. That said, the efficiencies created with the new system should eventually pay for themselves – but your business will need to budget carefully for the initial investment of money and development time.

Off-the-shelf software

Also known as “boxed software”, any application that is ready to be installed can be classified as “off the shelf”. Some of the most common examples would be productivity tools like Microsoft Office, or Adobe’s Creative Suite.

When compared to bespoke software, pre-packaged alternatives tend to be much cheaper up-front, mainly because of the trade-off in terms of customisation. For example, Excel is a great tool for capturing, calculating and reporting business data, but it cannot accurately map to a product’s manufacturing processes, nor automate activities.

Many businesses will find that most of their activities can be well managed with off the shelf solutions; even specialist functions like accounting and marketing can usually be accommodated using packaged programs, particularly for smaller organisations. And the use of Cloud software can help lower costs further.

How do you choose?

The rule of ‘buying the best you can afford’ also applies to software. If your business has a large IT budget and has a genuine need for a high degree of customisation, or unique processes that cannot be mapped in any other way, bespoke software is the obvious choice.

In almost every case however, businesses will find an agreeable compromise between functionality and processes, allowing them to choose a combination of off-the-shelf applications that are sufficient for their needs.

If in doubt, it is always best to seek professional advice to ensure you get the software which will genuinely benefit your business. An IT consultant will be able to recommend suitable packaged software solutions for your needs, or help you begin the process of specifying your needs for a bespoke software project.

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