Monday, August 6, 2007

Custom Software Solution or Off-the-Shelf Solution?

Recently I became a contributor to Evan Carmichael, a website and forum dedicated to providing inspirational and strategic content and information to entrepreneurs. My main focus will be providing content for their new technology section.

Recently another contributor added an article that caught my attention. The focus of the article was about the criteria a company should use when choosing between building a custom software solution and purchasing an off-the-shelf solution.

The litmus test, according to the author, is to decide whether you need something useful or if you need something innovative.

Useful is when you need something that will help you with normal, everyday tasks such as accounting, budgeting, planning or managing information in a database. Innovative is when your business is so unique it requires an application with functionality that fits your business processes. In fact, the author contends that if by developing a customized application you are able to demonstrate a sustainable competitive advantage and if it is something your competitors will have trouble copying, then your needs call for something that is innovative.

So, if your business needs call for a simple, yet useful solution, then an off-the-shelf application will do just fine. Most businesses who have faced this choice when applying a technology solution to their business processes will tell you that it is hardly worth the headache to create a custom application when a solution that has likely been produced will do the job nicely.

Whether you choose a useful solution that is off-the-shelf or if you decide to go with a fully customized application, the key is to make is sure it fits within the framework of Bailey’s Human Performance Model. If the application doesn’t meet the needs of the end-user (someone), doesn’t fit within the environment where it will be used (someplace) or if it doesn’t help the end-user overcome an obstacle or help them accomplish a specific task (something), then the application will hold little value and likely be rejected. That’s an expense most companies are unwilling to risk.

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