Out of the Box Solution or Custom Software Solution? A Shakespearean Dilemma.

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

The Dilemma:
As Hamlet so famously asked, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Today, the decision to pick the right software solution for your business often comes with much stress and excitement and the following question: To build or not to build?

Now, why would I compare Hamlet, a melodramatic play about murder and revenge, with a business decision? It is probably because most business owners, much like Hamlet, are cursed with an introspective nature. Hamlet contemplates remote, philosophical matters of life and death while you and your team contemplate matters that may be the life or death of your company. The decision between purchasing an out-of-the-box software solution and a custom solution can be quite a transformative experience. It can directly influence whether you choose to invest aggressively in long-term initiatives or take a cheaper and more conservative approach. Off-the-shelf solutions can be fast and cheap but you may eventually suffer from the lack of custom features. A custom solution will be tailored to your company’s need; however, it will require significant resources and time dedicated to its development. Shopping for a software solution can almost feel like an ethical dilemma and you may only discover later how detrimental your decision was to your business.

Finding the balance between your immediate business needs and long-term growth is both crucial and challenging, especially when addressing your software needs. Someone might even say there is an Art+Logic needed in this decision. See what I did there!

The Logical Path:
What is the problem you are trying to solve? And how are you going to solve it?

Perhaps, your company specializes in selling custom, foreign cars. Your current system to manage sales with international clients has worked for many years. Over time, your sales team created time-consuming, manual processes to deal with customs and currency exchange rates. You are now looking into a tool that would help you streamline some, if not all, of these processes. Your business needs will vary based on the size and the nature of your company. When choosing an out-of-the-box solution or something custom, ideally, you should be able to answer these two questions:

  1. How will the off-the-shelf solution meet my business needs?
  2. What software process will integrate with my company’s workflow?

If we consider the example above, out-of-the-box Solution A may streamline a lot of the processes involved in selling custom foreign cars. Solution A, for instance, has built-in features to help manage issues with customs and currency exchange rates. Solution A is quick to deploy and the vendor is in charge of the development, testing, and release of new features.

Out-of-the-box solutions are built to meet the needs of a large audience. Think about Salesforce or Gmail. Functionalities are targeted toward a large market, not a specific company or industry, and, ultimately, designed to address the most common needs for the most potential users. It is a more sensible option if your business is small, if your budget is limited, or is there is no competitive advantage to recreating an out-of-the-box solution. No need to reinvent the wheel when there is a perfectly good solution out there.

Out-of-the-box-solutions are also called “Canned solutions” because they are rigid, and they will not allow you to modify their functionality. They are affordable and usually come with a lot of features but not always the ones “tuned” to your unique business needs.

If your business has specialized needs, a custom solution will be better suited to meet them. In the case of a custom solution, Art+Logic will help you with the discovery process. It is as important to us as it is to you to understand your business needs and what the solution will achieve. Designing your own technology based on an evaluation of your business needs will give you some of the following benefits:

Increased Productivity: Easier to train staff to use the software because it follows existing business practices.

Quicker Reaction Time: Your development partner will provide an extensible, evolving solution that can stay current with your business.

Competitive Edge: You will own a software that is suited to your business operations and can give you a way to outperform your competitors.

The Art of Ambiguity:
Let’s get back to Hamlet. Hamlet’s ambiguity as a character is what makes us doubt he is truly the hero in the play. Searching for an adequate software solution comes with the same search for depth and complexity. A lot of times, canned solutions and more customized ones will not fall into a good/bad category.

Words, words, WORDS.” You may now feel like you want to disparage the whole argument. After all, business decisions are the product of rational thoughts and data, not a pure intellectual dilemma. Like Hamlet, you may want to call me a “fishmonger” for selling you on the idea of a custom solution. Picking the right software solution is often a mix between careful planning and improvisation. A business needs to constantly evolve to stay relevant. I invite you to read about Art+Logic co-founder Paul Hershenson’s experience on the subject. As a market or your organization changes, an off-the-shelf solution will be slow to bridge the gap between standard practices and innovation. A custom solution, tailored to your business, will be fluid, scalable and long-lasting.

There is an art to assess the benefits and the risks associated with a custom solution. It will take time and resources for your custom solution to ultimately fit your business.

The beauty of custom software development is that we are able to start small and add features over time. The breakdown of your project into smaller milestones allows you to get the core functionality sooner. Keep in mind, that your business is dynamic and constantly evolving and so are software solutions. Choosing a software solution that molds and adapts to the growth of your company is key to the scalability and efficiency of your business.

So . . . Your head is probably spinning and you probably don’t know if I am inviting you to read Hamlet or if I was helping you find a software solution that fits your business needs. Perhaps, I intended to do both. At any level, your business needs, your processes, your operation, your industry, and your budget are going to drive which solution to choose. If you are looking for a custom solution, Art+Logic is ready to draw on our 25+ years of knowledge and experience to create a robust custom software solution and accommodate your future needs. If you think a custom solution is a good fit for your business, contact us. The worst thing that could happen is that you will make a new friend.

Digging In The Dirt: 27 Years Of Project Data

Art+Logic Trantor

About 10 years ago, Art+Logic christened its homebuilt project tracking and management system. At our Annual Conference that year, we voted on the name “Trantor.” I’m not a sci-fi nut like most of my colleagues but apparently the name comes from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. Trantor was a planet which, in Asimov’s world, was at the center of the galaxy. Although I haven’t read the series, I do love that our company continues to celebrate and imbue in its culture all things geek.

We migrated all of our old project data over to Trantor and since then have been using the robust application as the backbone to our proprietary project management technique. It is a massive enterprise application, integrated with every division here at Art+Logic and, at this time, rightfully embodies its namesake. (more…)

Zen and the Art of Working with Internal Teams

Zen Image as metaphor for collaboration

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many internal development teams in my career in software development. For our company, working in partnership with internal development teams is, in fact, a common project type. Clients call on our particular services for any number of reasons but the most common are to a) increase development traction or b) supplement core internal skills with outside development expertise.

We’ve worked with internal teams comprised of a single developer as well as internal development teams for vast, multinational tech companies with internal departments that dwarf our entire company. (more…)

Maintaining Your Application — It’s Like Owning A Cat

Taking care of software is like taking care of a cat.

I may live to regret this analogy.

But let’s consider this a PSA for the purpose of maintaining your software application . . . perhaps co-sponsored by your local ASPCA or Animal Rescue.

I frequently find that clients think of their applications like a very heavy piece of furniture — one of those uber-plushy, leather recliners. You buy it, you stick it in the corner, and, there it sits, comfy and dependable, aging gracefully in place for years until a spouse puts a foot down and insists that it be updated for a newer model. The chair is dragged to the corner or sold at a yard sale or hauled to the transfer station. (more…)

When a Fixed Price is a Reasonable Option

I still run into a lot of companies that have the expectation that software development can be done on a fixed-price basis. They’re either still used to waterfall management style, or dealing with goods vendors, or, maybe a few are still running into software developers willing to work on a fixed-price basis.

On this blog, we’ve talked about the dangers inherent in fixed-price development services. How companies willing to offer an FPB will triple their hourly rate for change requests in order to make up the margin they already know exists between what they think the project will cost, and what it actually will end up costing. How every project, no matter how well planned out, rarely looks the same at the finish as it did at the start. How the number of unknowns at the start of a development project could fill a dump truck. What we haven’t talked much about is when it is reasonable to ask for, or expect, a fixed price. (more…)