If you want your business to provide your team members and customers with a technology platform that simplifies and streamlines key tasks, you have two options: pre-existing software or custom-built software.
Some off-the-shelf platforms are partially customizable, are updated frequently and are economical; but many companies are realizing the benefits of the second option, custom-built software. In fact, 66 percent of companies say they will invest in those solutions over the next five years. Should you follow suit?
Depending on the nature of your business, a custom technology platform may be your best or only option. For instance, you may have a unique set of needs that no existing product can meet, or perhaps the current options are simply too slow. Those obstacles are more common than you might think -- more than 70 percent of companies say they’re unable to find the perfect system.
Ultimately, however, the decision to build a custom technology platform should hinge on whether existing software is aiding or hindering your company’s growth.
Weigh your decision carefully.
Initially, our company used pre-existing software because it was affordable, easy to implement and convenient to obtain. Eventually, though, we realized that the lack of customization was hindering our business’ growth rate. We decided to invest in the creation of a technology platform that would suit our exact needs, and we’ve never looked back.
In some instances, a great custom platform can provide your company with an entirely new revenue stream. Basecamp, for example, developed an internal online project-management app that was so good other businesses wanted to use it.
Despite Basecamp’s success, you should devote a long period to brainstorming and careful consideration before you too move forward with creating custom software. Ask yourself, “Will an expensive custom platform add true value to my company?” A local coffee shop, for instance, may not benefit from spending tens of thousands of dollars on exclusive accounting software when QuickBooks will suffice.
Once you do decide that custom software will add value to your business, consider your time line and budget. Software development can be a long, expensive process, and you rarely create the perfect product on your first try. There will likely be several iterations.
If you’re short on time or funds, you might be better off living with what you can develop in a limited amount of time, even if it addresses only 80 percent of your needs. There will always be more time to upgrade your system. One of the benefits of developing custom software is the luxury to do just that: Revise and test the new functionality of the system.
You might also consider how steep the learning curve will be. A custom technology platform is only as effective as the team members using it, so ample training is key.
Ease the transition.
Once you opt for a custom technology platform, there are three things you can do to make the process easier:
1. Invest your resources strategically.
You may spend a great deal of time and money on your platform before you ever see a minimally functional product. Be sure to budget your resources and plan accordingly. If you’re looking for a quick-fix solution, an off-the-shelf option may be better in the short term while you have your long-term goals set on a custom platform.
2. Determine your mission-critical features.
You likely don’t need a platform with 1,000 features. Do preliminary research to determine which ones will truly enhance your business and give you a competitive edge. You can always supplement your new technology platform with existing software. In the early stages of development, your priority should be creating a functioning product, not building out bells and whistles.
3. Build a great development team.
Ideally, you have an all-star in-house development team. If you can’t currently afford this asset, it’s relatively easy to find great developers who will work on a freelance basis, allowing you to gradually build an in-house team.
Developing a custom technology platform ultimately involves an investment of time, money and patience. While it’s neither quick nor easy, a custom platform can ultimately mean the difference between stagnation and growth.