When business leaders and managers are questioned as to what keeps them up at night, the answer is invariably ‘change’, ‘disruption’, or ‘innovation’. Across sectors, businesses are either becoming the disrupted or the disruptor. Smart leaders are recognising the imperative to continually innovate, and to become agile and responsive as an organisation. This requires re-thinking everything from the HR approach to the enterprise software that is fuelling daily business processes and transactions.
Within the realm of enterprise software, businesses have to make a decision upfront as to whether they develop customised software with a development partner, or simply purchase off the shelf products. Often, this decision speaks to a fundamental approach to organisational growth and expansion…
Is the business future-focused? Does the leadership understand the value of agility and the role of technology today?
For business leaders to make the right decision in this regard, it is critical to understand the benefits and disadvantages of custom development versus an off the shelf product, and to appreciate the value of working with a partner that understands the business processes that this software needs to drive.
Treading the trodden path…
Without doubt, the upfront costs of purchasing off the shelf are fairly low, and there is little to no maintenance or hassle around installation. You can be up and running very quickly, and upgrades are provided at a reduced cost. In addition, support is often built-in, and there will be a wide range of features included. That said, when there is such a broad range of capabilities looped in (benefiting from economies of scale) it is more likely that the business will utilise a mere 20% of the features – as per the common 80/20 rule.
The challenge with this model is that off the shelf products often don’t have any synergy with existing business processes. As a result, businesses may need to invest time and resources in adapting their approach to the software and systems, as opposed to the other way around. There is little flexibility, and the organisation is tied into a fixed platform.
Choosing to pursue the customised software route takes businesses onto a very different path – and one that is arguably far savvier in an environment characterised by adaptation.
To maximize the benefits of this approach, it is better to embrace a partnership mindset with an enterprise software developer. Indeed, by viewing the external development team as an extension of the business itself, then both parties can ensure that the benefits of custom development are fully leveraged.
By working closely and with shared goals, the business can start with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and get to market very quickly. From there, the process can change and adapt according to the initial feedback and market response. This eliminates the risk of developing features and functionality that the business doesn’t really need, and instead focus on the 20% of functionality that truly serves the core business mission.
Importantly, transparency and full visibility should be built-in to the entire development process. As the project unfolds, the business can benefit from software that is completely tailored to its unique needs at the time. Inevitably, these needs will change over time – and the business will have full control over the software and the ability to adapt and tweak it to new and evolving business needs.
For example, if a business recognises that its customers are moving to mobile, then it can work with its development partner to add mobile access and functionality. It will be quick and fairly straightforward to innovate and add on to existing custom software – whereas this simply wouldn’t be feasible with an off the shelf product.
Naturally, the upfront costs of customised software will be higher – but these costs will level off and in the long run, will prove to be far more cost effective. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel down the line, customised software positions a business for cost effective adaptation and continuous improvement.
A Hybrid, Market Ready Approach
Increasingly, future focused businesses are benefiting from a hybrid approach to software development. Essentially, by working with an enterprise software developer that understands how to innovate on top of established, more generic software layers, businesses can benefit from the best of both worlds (custom and off the shelf).
Looking ahead, businesses across sectors and of all sizes need to ensure that every decision that is made – from software development to talent management – needs to have built-in agility and an eye towards constant innovation.
By Leon Coetzer