Custom Software Vs. Off The Shelf: The Pros & The Cons

Business Intelligence, Software Development, Technology

Understanding the pros and cons of a custom and off the shelf software solutions is key to choosing the option that's the best fit for your business. So what are the major differences?

Custom Software - Pros

  • By its very definition custom software is built for the unique challenges of your situation. It is designed specifically for your unique circumstances, and, when done well, provides an almost perfect solution to your problem.

  • What’s more, it can be designed to meet every requirement that you had outlined in the evaluation phase. Rather than just labeling something ‘Nice to Have’, you can have it.

  • Custom software can be easily modified and expanded, keeping in-step with your business as it, and technology, morphs and changes over years. You own the software, you can do what you need with it.

  • Custom software also offers a competitive advantage over your competitors. It’s something that they don’t have – indeed, your custom solution is something that they can’t have – and as long as it’s well-designed you should soon see yourself getting ahead of your competition.


Custom Software - Cons

  • The built-from-scratch nature and endless customization that is possible with a custom software solution does mean that you’ll likely be looking at a larger upfront investment. It’s important to note, however, that the solution’s efficiencies will usually see this upfront investment richly rewarded in the future with a solution built perfectly to match your needs. Indeed, many off the shelf options are structured as monthly subscription packages in order to disperse the cost. The perpetual nature of this model can ultimately end up costing more than a custom solution.

  • If you’re looking for a quick fix, a custom software solution may not be for you. You’ll be facing a development phase that may take several months, which, while eventually delivering a great solution, simply isn’t feasible in certain situations. But the same could often be said for an off-the-shelf solution, as customizing and implementing software that wasn’t built specifically for your business can take a surprising amount of time. It’s not as easy as loading a program and getting an instant benefit.

  • Creating a custom solution could leave you dependent on the custom software provider. If they were to fold or become unavailable for whatever reason your business could be inconvenienced. At the same time, this small-scale, localized support is a terrific thing, as you’ve got the benefit of a software team that truly understands your business. It’s simply a matter of choosing your partner wisely.

Off the Shelf Software - Pros

  • Are you needing a software solution sooner rather than later? Good news – packaged software is designed for quick installation and use. It needs to be remembered, however, that a packaged solution may need to be customised and may not be compatible with your current systems, both of which will cancel out the speed benefit.

  • The mass-produced nature of off the shelf business software results in a low upfront cost for most off-the shelf solutions. It should be remembered that these solutions may be cheap to purchase initially, but can cost you a lot more over time due to their inefficiencies, and any ongoing maintenance and subscription fees (e.g. SaaS).

  • Trusted packaged software will have broad adoption of the exact solution you’ll be using - you’ll be able to look up reviews online, check forums for feedback, and perhaps even give the software a test run before purchasing. That said, a good custom software partner will have a proven track record, and will start with a standard infrastructure, offering you similar levels of confidence.

  • In the same way that you’ll be able to check reviews prior to purchasing your packaged solution, you’ll also be able to access community support if any problems should arise down the track, as other users may be having the same issues.


Off the Shelf Software - Cons

  • The major risk in going for a off the shelf solution is that it may not meet all of your business’s requirements. A piece of packaged software may cost a bit less than a custom solution, but if it’s half as capable or efficient you’ll soon lose all that money initially saved. You should consider the hidden cost of modifying your business processes and staffing to fit your business to the software versus fitting the software to your business.

  • Most off-the-shelf business software is rigid and difficult to modify. As your business grows or changes you’ll be unable to grow or change the software with it, as you don’t control the changes and upgrades. In order to get the changes you’re after you’d need to convince the software company that your needs outweigh their broader product roadmap.

  • Off the shelf software often faces compatibility issues. It’s highly likely that your business’s operating systems, devices or other business software will clash with the packaged solution at a base level, making it either unusable or incredibly inefficient.

  • By choosing an off the shelf software you’re choosing a solution that is available to all of your competitors. This means that innovative and pioneering business ideas can be easily replicated by your rivals after you’ve put in the time and taken the risk in proving them.


The decision between a custom piece of business software and a pre-packaged solution is one that can have far-reaching consequences that are felt years down the road. It’s imperative that you make this decision with the long-term ramifications in mind. Short-term pain will often lead to long-term gain, while the unenviable opposite can also be true.

Custom Software or Off the Shelf?


You’ve identified an area of your business that has room for improvement, whether that be in the form of an opportunity to streamline your operations, or the chance to capitalize on a new revenue stream. In order to create this improvement you’ll need a capable piece of business software. Read our eBook to learn what to consider when building custom software vs. buying off the shelf.

Choose the right software solution for your business needs.


Let's Talk