Is off-the-shelf software better than bespoke software?

Most of the software that you use from day-to-day will be 'off-the-shelf' packages created by huge organisations that will often be used by millions of people. There is also a growing amount of 'free' software that can be downloaded from the internet. This is often a ploy from the bigger companies to buy the full version of their software by offering stripped-down, free versions with not many functions. The alternative to this is bespoke software that has been designed specifically for you and your business and though sometimes more expensive should not be overlooked as the benefits can often outweigh the higher price tag.

Download our free software comparison tool to help you decide which will be better for you.

Benefits of Bespoke Software

It is tailor-made to fit your particular business's needs so will run exactly the way you want it to.

It can be programmed to run alongside your existing software or even communicate with it. The learning curve is reduced as it is written specifically to meet your needs and there are no pointless add-ons.

If you can conceive an idea then it can generally be programmed. This gives you unlimited software resources that you will not find with off-the-shelf software.

It is much more flexible than packaged software and can be modified and changed over time as your requirements and business practices change.

It is often an ongoing relationship that grows with your business, so when your needs change and you want something adding, it is easy to do.

The software support is usually much better as you will generally speak directly to the developer without being put in an automated queue.

If you find a good developer then they can significantly add value to your company by suggesting alternatives, improvements and by acting as a source of IT advice and information.

If all your competitors have bought the same off-the-shelf software but you have professionally developed bespoke software applications, this can give you a significant business advantage.

Downside of Bespoke Software

You can sometimes be at the mercy of the developers who will charge you lots of money for small fixes. Make sure you know the arrangements for ongoing changes at the outset.

They might also keep the source code from you which can make it impossible to have changes made with a different company. To avoid this make sure you are guaranteed access to the code before the work starts.

If the software is unstable, unreliable or conflicts with your other software it could have a huge impact on your business. You should make sure from the beginning that your developers know about other software you run.

The cost of bespoke software is always much higher than buying off-the-shelf software for a single user - although with multiple users this is not always the case. You will need to weigh this up against the obvious benefits and decide which option is more cost effective for you.

The smaller companies are more likely to go bust and shut down thus leaving you with software but no support. To avoid this always seek references about the company you choose to work with and make sure your software is developed in a package for which you will easily find another developer.

Benefits of Packaged Software

The top software packages are often highly complex and efficient. This is due to the high number of users that result in huge profits which get invested back into the software.

Because there are more users, the cost of development goes down thus resulting in cheaper software.

Downside of Packaged Software

Though the software can be highly complex and very efficient it often gets wasted as large sections will never get used (the average Word user is likely to only use about 10% of the available functions, for example).

As it is designed for many users there is always a compromise as each person has slightly different requirements.

As the software tends to be large and complicated it may take a long time to learn properly which most people will not bother with (apparently some of the most asked for additions to later versions of Word were ones that already existed in the previous version - it was just that the users did not know that they existed because the application was so big).

Changes to the software will happen every so often but they will not add or change a function just for you.

You may have to alter the way you work to fit in with the software rather than it doing exactly what you want it to.

As the same system can be bought by your competitors it is very difficult to gain any competitive advantage from its use.

Though the software is highly complex there will be limitations to it and the way you work. If you have problems with the software then you will likely be faced with a call centre to help you - though a good place nowadays is online forums.


In our view there is not a clear winner between off-the-shelf software and bespoke software. It is a matter of choice and circumstance. Everybody's position is slightly different and you need to decide which is better suited to your needs.

There is a lot of excellent and often cheap software on the market which will cater for basic day-to-day admin and business tasks. But if you require something more specific or want to get the edge on your competitors, off-the-shelf comes second best to well-produced, thought out software that is tailored exactly to your business's needs.

Are you unsure if you need bespoke software?
If you are unsure if you and your business need bespoke software, give us a ring. We will quickly establish what your needs are and tell you which solution we think fits your business's needs.

Are you worried that it will cost too much?
With a short telephone consultation from us we can quickly establish your needs and tell you which solution we think will work best for you. We will be able to give you a ballpark figure with which you are free to go away and think about. And whether or not you would like to move forward with us, that is fine. We want to provide you with a solution that is a winner for you!

Are you worried about sales people putting pressure on you?
Firstly our consultations are done by software developers and not sales people. Secondly, we believe in no pressure consultations with an aim of solving a problem in the cheapest and most efficient way possible. Whether you choose to go ahead and fix the problem with us is completely up to you.

Do you want to know why we are a good fit for you?
Read about what we believe in and what it means in practice here.

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emailing us via our Contact page or giving us a call on 01747 822616. We give free advice!

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