Off the Shelf vs Custom Built. What system is best for you?

As a business owner, deciding on which system you’ll implement across your organisation is critical for the future of your business.

Often, implementing the wrong system will cost you a bomb in training and add-ons. So, how can you be sure which system will meet your organisations requirements?

In this month’s blog we walk through the pros and cons of the different types of systems and how to identify the right system for you.

What do I get with an Off the Shelf product?

Often abbreviated as COTS, a Commercial off the Shelf product can be an appealing solution for your business.

Most people believe you can just unwrap the plastic, stick a CD in the slot, read a manual (or not!) and go! Truthfully, this is only the case if you’re looking for a word processer or a spreadsheet application.

The more complex a system the more complex the learning curve. With any sizeable system there are degrees of customisation, some simple some complex. Often, you’ll want:

  • Historical data loaded into the system
  • Particular forms for input with field that are not in the ‘base’ system
  • Complicated workflows that are not inherent in the system

Is a COTS product right for my unique requirements?

Any changes to a COTS system will depend on the structure of the package. Some changes can be simple, others can be literally impossible. Often, alternatives will need to be explored with the supplier – or you’ll be stuck with a package not suited to your needs.

Overall, COTS provide a large amount of functionality at a low cost. Just look at most Off the Shelf accounting systems:

  • There are many packages available;
  • They provide a large amount of functionality;
  • The rules within those packages are highly detailed; and,
  • Most people have requirements that are very similar for these packages.

Still, some organisations will refrain from using a COTS system because they’re either too small or too large.

Custom systems - are they for me?

The biggest benefit of a bespoke system compared to a COTS is the ultimate flexibility you can achieve. This provides you with the following advantages:

  • You’re able to do something inventive, such as embracing new technology, or where there is unlikely to be an existing COTS system which meets your requirements.
  • If you want to communicate with another system, unless it is an industry standard system, it is unlikely to be available in a COTS system.
  • You may not need all of the functionality of a COTS system. A COTS system may have many fields and features that you will never use.
  • You can design a workflow that suits your business exactly. You do not need to change how you work to match the system.

These all sound like things you may want to do, but it’s important to remember the time and cost to develop a custom system will most likely be more than an equivalent COTS package. Defining, developing, and testing the system all takes time.

A challenger appears?

There is a third option which incorporates both a COTS and a custom system. These are commonly referred to as Hybrid Systems.

With most packages there are ways to get into the system. These are designed to allow developers to exchange information with the package and are often referred to as APIs.

Often, it can take time to understand an API but they can provide a powerful method to allow developers to integrate unique features into the base model.

If APIs are not available, often there is a method to interface through the database. Once connected, a developer can again create unique functionality to a standard package.

custom v bespoke

What next?

Before making a decision on which system is right for your organisation ask yourself the following:

  • What are the benefits that are going to be achieved through tailoring a COTS system?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What are the upgrade paths (both for customisation of the package and any Bespoke ad-ons)

You’ll also want to ensure the following have been addressed:

  • Who has ownership of the systems source code?
  • How long until the project will be delivered?
  • What does the ongoing support entail?

Choosing the right system for your organisation can be critical for the future of your operation.

To ensure you pick the best system for you, give us a call on +61 3 9660 5500 or send us a message and we’ll make sure the system you invest in is right for your unique requirements.

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