11 May Custom development: cheaper than you might think
Custom development: cheaper than you might think
If you’re looking for a software solution as an IT executive nowadays, there are branching paths. You can either have a custom software solution made tailored to your specific needs, or purchase an off-the-shelf package from a vendor. Both options come with their advantages and drawbacks, so it’s vital to make an informed decision.
However, it’s just as essential not to get stuck in misconceptions. The notion that custom software development is by definition a costly affair is one of those assumptions that seem to be hard to get rid of. Here to set things straight so you can make that informed decision is our managing partner, Kris De Bisschop.
Back to basics
Kris starts us off by taking it back to basics: it’s critical to keep the fact that you are looking for a way to simplify and enhance business processes in the back of your mind at all times. It may sound self-evident, but the underlying message can get lost after a bunch of sales meetings. After all, as he likes to say, your IT should adapt to your organisation, not the other way around.
Kris knows that it’s not a straightforward task as a decision maker. Just figuring out what you want exactly already takes a lot of time and other resources. You’ll need to map out your business processes, how they interact, and where there’s room for improvement.
The problem with software packages
Mapping those processes to a software package takes even more time. There’s bound to be a misfit somewhere, so how do you mix and match? Should you give up on the integrity of your business processes just to make them fit in a software package? Or should you customise the existing package with some bells and whistles?
Whichever route you choose, Kris has heard of some unsatisfactory experiences with that later route. Software packages may work for some companies, but using them requires careful thought. Customising an existing software package is often very time-consuming, and therefore costly. Chances are that you and other customers are paying for the R&D that went into developing the package. Even more important is that your desired degree of customisation can’t be guaranteed at all.
You probably won’t be able to change every single thing you want. Most packages limit their customisation to some colours and other basic user interface elements. And, even with that limited customisation, who says that they will still support it further down the road? After all, vendors are free to change their software’s features as they see fit in big releases, and might even force you to upgrade to a version that breaks your customisation through subscription models and other contractual obligations.
Practice makes perfect
Fully custom software suffers from none of the drawbacks of pre-defined packages. Its major drawback is that it can turn out to be a costly affair. However, its reputation of being expensive by definition is simply not true. Kris stresses that custom software will only be expensive if it’s not developed the right way.
Some software solution providers still work according to some variation of the waterfall method. This means that vendors determine a feature set together with their clients beforehand, and the development team will only deliver a complete product after they have checked everything off the list. If there are any mismatches with expectations or business processes, they will only be detected when it costs more time and effort to fix them.
Instead, Kris recommends an iterative approach. That way, you can start with a limited feature set, which is sometimes referred to as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP allows you to put Kris’ favourite quote in action: you can make sure that you design your application around your processes, instead of the other way around.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
You can handle the iterative approach through an agile methodology for fully custom development, but there’s an alternative. There’s a way to combine the best of both custom development and pre-made packages, while still keeping costs low: software platforms that use pre-coded “building blocks” or modules.
With these types of packages, you can get started right away. Your developers can mix, match and customise those modules to their heart’s content, with no risk of compliance issues further down the road. Every product that is built using those packages is a unique result, with no dependencies on the software vendor or its other customers.
Depending on your choice of platform, there are ways of making the development process even faster and easier. Some of these platforms will offer so-called “low-coding” features, which allow business users with little to no coding knowledge to construct their own modules by dragging and dropping. Besides low-coding features, those packages will often include pre-made templates for one or more functional areas that can function as an MVP or even as a final product, with just a few clicks.
If needed, both low-code and template features can be fine-tuned by coders through what Kris calls “pro coding”: using scripts to further enhance existing functionalities. It’s important to note that these features belong to your organisation by default, and will continue to do so.
Leaving room for error and improvement is essential, because it’s only when you start actually using an MVP that you realise in which ways you can still improve the end product. Even once you’ve reached a “final” product, slight adjustments will probably need to happen, and the product will require support to remain optional.
That’s why Kris recommends using a trusted partner for development and managed services afterwards. After all that decision stress, being able to depend on a trusted partner will give you some much-needed peace of mind.
Intrigued by this blog post, but not sure how to get started? Give GroupWave a call, and we’ll sort out the tangle together with you. We will only recommend what you actually need, and only when you need it. That’s the GroupWave guarantee!