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Custom Software vs Off-The-Shelf Solutions: Which is Right for You?

Are you looking to kick-off a development project? Should you go for the all-singing, all-dancing custom-made solution that's tailor-fitted to your needs, or should you keep it simple with an off-the-shelf option? Check out our latest blog to find out which solution is best for you...


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Greetings and salutations tech enthusiasts and advocates for positive change!

Lottie here, Client Success Executive extraordinaire at 3 Sided Cube, and I’m thrilled to welcome you to my first-ever blog post (!!) where we will chat all things building tech for good and an industry trend I’m hearing about with increased frequency…

Enter the custom software vs. off-the-shelf great debate to the ring!

Working within the Client Success team, I’ve LOVED watching firsthand the transformative power technology has in driving social impact and helping guide incredible ideas off the ground and into the world to change millions of lives for the better. My role is to understand the challenges potential clients are facing and be their new biz bestie to guide them through those crucial first steps to bring their digital product dreams to reality in a way that works best for the client and user alike.

The great debate of “custom vs. off-the-shelf’ is often a conversation I have, so I wanted to shed some light on what those solutions entail to all you fine people reading this blog!

When you’re thinking about the right software for your mission-driven project, you’ve got a big choice to make: Should you go for the all-singing, all-dancing custom-made solution that’s tailor-fitted to your needs, or should you keep it simple with an off-the-shelf option?

While I OBVIOUSLY have a vested interest in custom digital solutions, I’m even more interested in guiding prospects down a path that best suits their needs to ensure their project makes it out into the world to generate impact rather than going for a hard sell. That’s not how we roll at Cube! Ready-to-use apps are brilliant and have proven themselves to be the ideal solution time and time again

But before you choose the red or blue pill, let’s discuss what those two options actually mean….

But what does custom and off-the-shelf software MEAN?!

Jennifer Lawrence Laughing GIF by Sony Pictures

Glad you asked.

You just might be reading this lil’ ol’ blog because you’re standing on the precipice of digital ambition, armed with a vision for a digital product that could change the game. (Ok, ok that was a *tad* dramatic, but this is what I do so trust the process)

Back to your regularly scheduled programming…the next step off that precipice is choosing the right development path. But before the battle royale begins, let’s take a step back and give you the Spark Notes version of what custom and off-the-shelf means:

Custom: Is like building your dream house from the ground up. Your digital product is built from scratch by a team of tech wizards to fit your exact needs. 

It’s all about maximum customisation. It is a precise process that starts by diving deep into an organisation’s unique needs and involves crafting software from scratch or adapting existing frameworks to create a solution perfectly aligned with those specific requirements. 

Unlike off-the-shelf solutions, custom software is tailored to fit seamlessly into existing workflows, offering optimised functionalities and scalability to grow alongside the organisation. This approach ensures a highly personalised, efficient solution that evolves hand-in-hand with changing needs and technological advancements, providing a strategic edge in meeting goals and KPI’s

Off-the-shelf: Or FKA ready-use software refers to pre-designed and pre-packaged software applications or solutions that are readily available for purchase or use without any customisation. They are developed to address general needs and are marketed for a wide range of users without specific tailoring.

They typically offer a set of standard functionalities and features intended to serve a broad user base. Examples include software suites like Microsoft Office or Adobe Creative Cloud, which provide a variety of tools and features applicable to different industries or users. Off-the-shelf software is deployed as is, without significant modifications to suit organisation’s requirements.

Now it’s time for the royal rumble!

Round 1: Custom software – the craftsmanship of code

In the left corner stands Custom Software Development, the heavyweight champion of digital creation. This is where you get to craft an app like Michelangelo, chiselling a masterpiece. The canvas is blank, and you’re the artist with complete control over every pixel, every line of code.


Tailored Perfection: Custom software is like a Savile Row suit for your digital needs. One size doesn’t fit all, and your app should reflect your unique vision. With custom development, you’re not confined to predefined templates and components. You get to sculpt your app’s design, functionality, and user experience exactly as you envision it. Every pixel, every interaction, is an expression of your brand’s identity.

Flexibility and Scalability: Your app isn’t just a flash in the pan; it’s a roadmap to success without limitations. With custom software, you’re building an infrastructure that can withstand the test of time and a growing user base. As your app gains traction and popularity, it won’t crumble under the weight of its own success. It’s super important to have a clear long-term vision before diving into a custom development project so that the solution lines up with your big goals. Custom solutions can be designed for seamless scalability, ensuring your app can accommodate thousands or even millions of users without a hiccup.

A team you want to work with: Since you chose the custom route, you are master of your own destiny, YOU get to choose your technical partner. There are infinite choices so chances are, there is a fantastic agency that not only aligns with your vision, but dare I say, you thoroughly enjoy working with?! The team will understand your style, your work groove, and your big-picture goals, and they’re all in to help you achieve them. A truly great technical partnership requires transparency and collaboration, with synergy like that – your project is destined for greatness!

Solving Uniqueness: Think of your app as a fingerprint – there’s no other like it. Custom software allows you to address your specific business challenges and requirements. Whether you’re creating a niche marketplace or revolutionising an industry, custom development ensures your app aligns precisely with your objectives. No compromises, no cutting corners.

Enhanced Security: Security is a big deal, especially when you’re handling sensitive data. Custom software lets you create super-strong security that’s all about your unique needs, making sure you’re airtight against any vulnerabilities.

Increased efficiency and streamlined: With a custom build, you can bet your product won’t be weighed down by extra stuff you don’t need. Your solution will be slick and one-of-a-kind, standing out from competitors who might have gone with an off-the-shelf option.

Future-Proofing and Ownership: When you opt for custom software, you’re the captain of your digital ship. You own the code, the design, and the future. You’re not beholden to the decisions or changes of a third-party platform. This level of control allows you to pivot, innovate, and adapt as your business evolves without being constrained by someone else’s roadmap.

Support and Evolvement: A custom-built app doesn’t end at launch. It’s a journey of continuous improvement. As your user feedback rolls in and your business landscape changes, you have the flexibility to iterate, refine, and add features. Your development team is always just a call away, ready to adapt your app to changing needs and technological advancements. The world really is your oyster! 

& the Cons:

Higher Initial Cost: Creating custom software involves a pretty hefty upfront investment. This might not be doable without some serious cash in the early stages. But why the higher price tag? Well, when you’re starting from scratch, you’re footing the bill for a whole team of experts in their fields.

Rather than struggle as a one-man-band, if you’re working with an agency like Cube, you’ll also have your own crew of specialist designers, front-end and back-end developers, testers, strategists, and a project manager to smoothly guide the whole process, keeping everything on track, all while staying within budget and scope.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

Scope the project and add features incrementally to minimise upfront costs.

Extended Development Time: Starting software from the ground up means you’ll need time for development, testing, and fine-tuning. Sometimes, this can lead to a later product launch, and like any project, it has its own learning curve that demands time and dedication to conquer.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

Think about adopting an Agile approach. Agile is an iterative and flexible project management methodology which lets you build and improve your software step by step, minimising risks associated with long development cycles, and fosters a more responsive and flexible development environment to keep timings down.

Frequent feedback loops help identify and address issues early in the development process, reducing the likelihood of major changes or rework later on.

Scope creep:  Think of bespoke software as your creative playground. It’s like having a blank canvas where you can go wild with your ideas, creating your perfect solution. But, be careful not to get too carried away, because all that excitement can lead to adding extra stuff, which in turn can slow things down, rack up the costs, and leave you with a final product that’s not quite what you had in mind, which is why choosing the right technical partner for your project is essential. Any software agency worth their salt will have measures in place to mitigate this risk.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

Again, look at working in an Agile way as this gives you, the client, more control over where your money is spent. The idea is you spend budget on the features that are important and valuable to you. We would advise appointing a project manager to any bespoke project to keep things on track and within budget.

Continuous Improvement and Ongoing Maintenance: When it comes to custom technology, here’s the deal: it’s not a fire-and-forget affair. Consider the apps on your phone, for example. Keeping them technologically current is great as it optimises performance and introduces new features but aside from that, it’s vital, particularly because apps can go out of style in the blink of an eye.

After the launch, you’re responsible for keeping your custom software in good shape, and you’ll need to consider your maintenance and update costs.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

Ensure the agency you choose is open about Continuous Improvement from the get-go and considers it throughout the discovery and define phase. The associated costs should be baked into the process and cost early on to steer clear of any surprise expenses later down the line.

Round 2: Off-the-shelf solutions - the tempting allure

In the right corner, we have the swift and enticing ready-made solutions. These platforms promise a tantalising shortcut to app glory. Imagine the thrill: assembling your platform in the blink of an eye, and the promise of creating a functional app without wrestling with lines of code. It’s an alluring prospect, especially if you’re not a seasoned developer.


Cost-Effective: It’s no secret that you’ll find off-the-shelf solution software is often more budget-friendly upfront for businesses and organisations with standard needs. Off-the-shelf technology is generally more cost effective than bespoke software because it’s mass-produced for a wide market, spreading development costs across many users.

Quick Deployment: With a ready-made solution you can get your app up and running in a mere fraction of the time it would typically take to brew a fresh cup of coffee.

Proven Track Record: Lots of off-the-shelf solutions have already made a name for themselves and found their groove in the market. A little digging into each platform can give you the confidence that they’re dependable and useful. Why reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to?

Risk Mitigation: Since these solutions have a large user base, any potential problems or risks tend to get noticed and fixed pretty fast. That means you’re less likely to run into unexpected issues.

& the Cons:

One Size Fits None: Ready-made solutions are a bit like those one-size-fits-all shirts that never really fit anyone perfectly. They’re designed for a broad audience, which means they will likely lack the key features your project needs or come with extra stuff that just confuses users and clutters the user experience.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

Consider a pre-built solution that meets 70-80% of your needs. Test its use thoroughly, assess the essentiality of the remaining 20-30%, and if justified, opt for the custom software.

Limited Customisation: Unfortunately your ability to modify an off-the-shelf solution may be limited and might not give you much wiggle room, which could get in the way of meeting your project’s special needs.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

While this is currently the case now, as we all know, tech moves lightning fast – so more customisable options are just around the corner. Who knows, your software will just build itself one day soon!

Security Concerns: When it comes to protecting sensitive data in your projects, pre-built solutions might not cut it in the security department. It’s a good idea to do your homework and make sure a solution meets your security expectations.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

Research is key here. Really deep dive to ensure your project and users are never at risk.

Dependency on Vendor: You’re at the mercy of the suppliers roadmap and support. If they decide to pull the plug on their product or can’t address your specific needs, you could find yourself in a tough spot.

**Cube’s 2 cents**

There are steadfast suppliers out there. Go with a tried and true option vs a brand-spankin’ new platform.

And the winner is...

Custom Software!

Now, here’s the verdict: Ultimately, the choice between a custom build and an off-the-shelf solution depends on your project’s specific goals, budget, and timeline. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Consider the unique needs of your initiative, the resources at your disposal, and your long-term vision.

While “Off-The-Shelf” apps offer a quick start, custom software development stands as the champion when it comes to building an app that’s truly yours. It’s a journey, not a race. The flexibility, scalability, and future-proofing it offers can’t be matched by shortcuts.

Finding the right balance 

Sometimes, going for a hybrid approach can be pretty damn effective. You kick things off with an off-the-shelf solution to get your project off the ground pronto. Here’s the deal: if it does about 70 or 80% of what you’re after, so could be just the solution for you!

But, always keep your eyes on the prize: your mission to bring some positive change and solve those original problems you set out to tackle. Whether you pick custom or off-the-shelf software, your tech for good project can make a seriously profound and transformative impact.

And that’s where we, at 3 Sided Cube, come in. We’re your digital architects, your code crafters, and your app’s BFF. We understand the power of custom software development and aim to be the sidekick to your superhero ambitions. We believe that your digital vision deserves the precision and uniqueness that only custom software can provide. It’s not just about building an app; it’s about crafting an experience that sets you apart.

So, as you stand at the crossroads of your digital dream, remember this: “off-the-shelf” apps offer a sprint, but custom software is the marathon that leads to long-lasting success. Your app is a legacy, and we’re here to help you build it. 

Let’s make it exceptional, together.

You might be able to tell, I could talk about this all day! If you want to chat more about custom vs off-the-shelf solutions, or anything tech for good in general, shout me a holla!

Published on December 21, 2023, last updated on January 24, 2024

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