When is custom software the right choice?

July 8, 2014

A CIO recently asked me what guidelines I use when consulting on a build vs buy decision. This is a fair question considering Volano Solutions is a premier custom software developer in Omaha.

My answer: only build custom software when it makes sense. By this I mean if you can purchase good software to satisfy your need, you shouldn’t build. Volano wouldn’t advise a customer to “build GoToMeeting”, but many times building custom software is the right choice. Here are three considerations:

Using software as a competitive advantage. If you’re using software as a utility, gaining a competitive advantage is not likely. For instance, everyone has email, so custom building a better email system isn’t going to give you a leg up on the competition. However, if your business involves managing a complex workflow process, like auditing medical records or installing water filtration systems around the globe, then a custom software system can put you ahead of the competition. Volano has built both systems and a good number more. We can attest that solutions like these allow companies to be highly specialized and very efficient. Would-be competitors cannot purchase off-the-shelf software and play in the same league.

Package software products don’t always fit the need. In our formative days, Volano used BaseCamp to track details about our projects, including our time entries. We quickly found the software didn’t allow us to effectively report our time. We couldn’t easily see actuals vs estimates. There were other irritations too. It became obvious that we needed to create our own system for managing project details and so we did. We call the system “Timefly,” and it is central to all aspects of our business. Timefly allows Volano to run effectively and efficiently across multiple teams, without the use of whiteboards or spreadsheets.

A simplified, native, tailored approach is preferred. Software should be easy to use, but if the software is ‘everything to everyone’ then ease-of-use is lost in a sea of buttons and un-used fields. Custom software is, by definition, tailor fit. Software is much more approachable when it is distilled to its requisite functions, and it is built from the ground up around your unique business processes.

Check out this post if you’re interested in 4 symptoms that your business needs software in the first place.