Last updated:
17 Nov, 2021

Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf Software – a Few Guidelines to Help You Choose

Home Blog Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf Software – a Few Guidelines to Help You Choose
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One of the key decisions to make when shopping for travel software is which approach should be taken – custom software made exclusively for you vs off-the-shelf software. We’ve seen both approaches work equally well in our practice for different companies – from startups and small firms to established businesses with a large staff and even larger budgets. We also know for a fact it can be quite a bumpy road for a company to reach the right approach – due to over-focus on a particular option, bad planning, poor work on requirements, etc.

Thus, we decided to come up with a few guidelines prompted by the 19+ years in business to help you avoid a bad decision, save a lot of time and money.

Custom Software vs Off-the-shelf Product

Consider how unique your offering is

This is undoubtedly the first thing one should think about when facing the «custom vs off-the-shelf dilemma».

If you are what is traditionally known as an outbound tour operator, a travel agent, or, say, an OTA — the market is packed with ready-made platforms which can meet most of your requirements and can be easily integrated into your existing system. There’s no need to go too far — here’s a great example that can cover you up quite well.

It gets a bit more complicated in case you are selling exclusive tailor-made travel offers. Products of this sort put a lot of pressure in terms of system adaptability and customization — a major reason to follow the custom approach (These guys can confirm :)).

Audley Travel Case Study

Moving Supplier Interaction Online for a Luxury Tour Operator

Nevertheless, it is still not obligatory to do exclusive development in the case above. It really becomes a must when you are doing, say, something like this — a truly unique business model designed especially for you.

Thus, unique model = custom software.

Know you’re almost certain to use custom development at some stage. Take it for granted

This statement comes from our long-lasting experience of maintaining our own off-the-shelf product. It was to various extent, but so far over 90% of our product clients have asked for custom software development at a certain stage. Many came to ask for it in the course of work, with no explicit requests of this type prior to signing the contract.

This is driven by the following factors:

  • High competition in the travel market utterly forces out unique offerings from travel companies.
  • Natural desire of businesses to stand out.

Thus, you will most certainly need custom tweaks and changes even if you can’t see how and where at the beginning. Essentially this converts the «custom vs off-the-shelf dilemma» into the choice between fully custom-written software and product-based implementation. And here the choice depends on what covers your initial requirements in the best way.

Do not trade personalized approach for cheaper options

Many companies, especially startups, tend to mechanically prioritize off-the-shelf solutions as they tend to cost less.

It’s important to realize here that lower pricing often conceals the lack of a personalized approach. Your vendor will naturally develop its product according to market trends and the expectations of the majority. It is about doing business after all.

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We’d suggest you choose the off-the-shelf product option only if:

  • The product in its current state is 100% in line with your current requirements (possibly with some smaller customizations);
  • You do not see the need to add any custom functionalities and implementations for at least a few months after launch.

 

Otherwise, think of Enterprise product versions with unlimited customization options or fully custom software solutions.

Think twice whether you really need full source code ownership

This statement relates to large-scale projects.

Clients often prefer fully custom-coded software over product-based offers for their business because they are simply fixed on the idea of complete source code ownership. They can explain it with ‘business continuity considerations’, ‘internal company policy’’ and what not — when in fact there’s no true need or requirement. It is all about feeling a bit more secure.

Since we are talking about big and complex development here (an ERP system, for example), you must be sure you can handle the source code without your vendor if you ask for it. It takes an experienced team of experts to support legacy code. If you do not have such a team — which is very often the case if you search for a software vendor in the first place — is it worth paying a bit extra for ‘reinventing the wheel’ you can’t maintain? Be sure to always ask this question to yourself when in doubt about a reasonable product-based offer.

Work with a vendor that does both off-the-shelf and custom

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This is a wise and reasonable decision, because:

  • You’ll get the chance to request and review competing offers using two approaches. Weigh the pros and cons before making a final decision in favor of any option.
  • Unlike vendors offering only off-the-shelf or only custom, you will get unbiased reasoning for and against each approach that will help your decision-making.

 

Hopefully, you’ll find the above statements insightful. They are coming from years of market experience and can really help you save time and money.

You might also want to check our off-the-shelf product and custom development services in more detail. Contact us if you’d like a detailed consultation.

Sergey Zubekhin
Sergey Zubekhin
CEO, Co-founder at GP Solutions
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