Guide to Digital Transformation: Off-the-Shelf Or Custom - Part 2

By Steve Yatson on 30 May 2020

In Part 1 of this series we discussed the aspects of businesses that need to be explored in order to build a decision framework. Let’s explore now how that information is used.

When an off-the-shelf product is right

Buying a software product to support a business process is often seen as the best solution by smaller companies that lack resources or the financial capital to invest. Whether the product is for data management or a Customer Management System (CMS), functionality is quickly available and support for the product is the responsibility of the platform provider. Theoretically, this allows the internal team to focus on the specifics of the product or service. It is a very natural part of the growth process to decide to hire a CIO or similar, and for that person to determine an integration strategy for the overall benefit of the firm.

Off-the-shelf solutions can work well in the short term if a longer term strategy for integration and custom development is in place. If not, problems from poorly integrated or siloed solutions can linger. However, if the project only has a limited feature set—such as a simple eCommerce system with just a few products—an off-the-shelf solution may be the way to go. The less complex the requirements and the lower the likelihood of change, the more advantageous a product purchase tends to be. All of the products available functionality may not be used but all basic needs will be addressed.

Potential advantages of an off-the-shelf purchase:

  • Regulatory compliance concerns are covered
  • Inexpensive in short term or when used as a stepping stone to larger transformation
  • Highly specific needs can be well addressed

The potential drawbacks of an off-the-shelf purchase:

  • Cost of unused features
  • Lost opportunity on non existant features
  • No control over the product roadmap
  • Product company goes under leaving behind an unsupported, dated solution.
  • Long term recurring licensing or updating costs

When a custom solution is right

As an organization grows in complexity—size, products, geography, technology environment—needs become more specific. It becomes less likely they can all be addressed by an off-the-shelf product. With a fully customized solution, only what is needed is paid for. Through strategic thought partnering, consultants work to understand your business imperatives—short, medium and long-term— so they can provide the design services, architecture and development talent to meet them.

Making the choice of the right mix of off-the-shelf or custom can only be understood by going through the process of understanding the business as it stands today. Organizations partnering with productOps have the advantage of years of experience making and following through these decisions without the biases of being attached to particular software providers. In Part 3 of this series we dive into how exactly these important decisions are made.

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