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Off-the-shelf Software: Advantages and Disadvantages

Posted on: July 3rd, 2019 by Simon Swords

When building a business, you’ll need to have various systems and software in place, for everything from accounting to website management.

When deciding what to use, you can either opt for custom-built software or off-the-shelf software packages that already exist.

There are pros and cons for choosing off-the-shelf software, so it’s worth weighing these up before you dive in.
Off-the-shelf Software: Advantages and Disadvantages
But, first things first…

What is Off-the-shelf Software

As the name suggests, off-the-shelf software is ready to use right from the very beginning. It is a product developed for the mass-market, which means it is expected to respond to the needs of as many users as possible, offering many more features than a bespoke solution would.

Main Differences Between Bespoke and Off-the-shelf Software


Initial Cost of the Software

One of the biggest arguments for using off-the-shelf software is that it tends to be cheaper. However, that’s often not really the case.

What would be fair to say is that off-the-shelf software tends to be cheaper upfront. It’s true that, when you consider the initial outlay, one of the potential benefits of off-the-shelf software is that it’s very likely to cost you less than getting something built for your business.

That’s because the true cost of building and running the software is being split over a much larger userbase. There are more people using it, and more people paying for it, so the software owner can afford to charge a lower fee for the initial install.

This might be perfect for your business, but it all depends on whether the software is right for you. If it’s not, and you need to then purchase further upgrades or even buy completely new software as your needs change, then you’ll probably be looking at a much higher outlay, spread over time.

Some off-the-shelf providers will offer to tailor their software to your needs as they develop, but usually, they charge hugely inflated rates to do so.

Immediacy of Use and a Wealth of Features

Another big win when you use off-the-shelf software is that it’s a much quicker job to get it up and running. If you need an instant success for your business, a piece of existing software could be set up pretty quickly, rather than having to wait for bespoke software to be built.

Not only that, but you’ll often get access to a lot of features that are ready to utilise as soon as you need them. Of course, many of these may not be relevant, so don’t be instantly taken in by shiny bells and whistles.

Always evaluate what you need a piece of software to do, and take the time to research whether off-the-shelf products can fulfil those needs and whether they have any potential blockers that could slow you down.

Don’t be taken in by features that ultimately are nice-to-haves at the expense of essential functions. And the last thing you should be doing is changing how you do business to fit a piece of software.

Your business will only succeed if you stick to best practice, and if your off-the-shelf software can’t deliver that for you then you need to consider another option.

Also, do these features make the software more complicated than it needs to be? A huge amount of options, settings and functions can sometimes muddy the waters. You may be stuck with unwieldy software that is hard to navigate, or a large bill for staff training in order to help them get to grips with it.

Plenty of Documentation to Hand – Further Support Available

When you’re getting to grips with new software, you’ll find that many larger off-the-shelf software products have huge amounts of supporting documentation to help you.

Not only with these solutions have user manuals that the developers have written, but often you’ll find that unofficial user guides written by other customers can be even more helpful.

Then there’s all the online support through forums and articles that can help you resolve any issues. Some off-the-shelf software providers will include technical support as part of the package you buy. This means you can get direct access to the developers of the software to get help when you need it.

Not All Support is Straight-forward

There can be some drawbacks to this service though. Sometimes you’ll need to pay for this application support, whether through a maintenance contract or even just as simply through using premium phone numbers in order to get in touch.

Then there’s the fact that you may not speak to an expert at all – are you definitely going to reach a software developer on the other end of the line, or have cheap customer service agents been brought in to field basic questions that don’t actually help you?

Some developers also won’t provide support if you’re using an outdated version of their software. This goes back to paying more in the long run – do you really want to pay to undergo a potentially huge software update, including backing up any data you have, just to qualify for support?

Continued Updates – But Are They What You Need?

Off-the-shelf software doesn’t tend to be static – most will undergo new versions and updates to iron out bugs and add in new features. This can be really useful if you’re enjoying these updates for free, as you’ll get new functions that may open up new ways to tackle your business needs.

The main problem with this is that the chances of these new features being exactly what you need are pretty slim. You can often make requests for a feature you need as part of the next update, but your voice is part of a huge crowd, and unless everyone is missing the same functionality, you’re more likely to be ignored.

Plus, even as the software develops, it can’t keep up with a changing world. You can get off-the-shelf tools that can handle key functions of your business but as your business evolves, your software can become outdated.

Going down the bespoke route means you’re more likely to have programs that have scalability built-in and tailored to you. As you grow, the software will grow with you.

Ultimately, it Depends on Your Business Needs

Once you’ve considered all of these, it may be that an off-the-shelf piece of software is right for where your business is currently positioning itself.

However if you aren’t sure, and particularly if you’re looking to take your business to the next level, it’s worth checking out bespoke software solutions.

Get in touch to find out more about the bespoke software solutions we provide.

Simon Swords


Managing Director

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