Bespoke software development vs. off-the-shelf software

19 July 2021 | Blog

If your business is looking for a software solution to help complete your processes, improve efficiency, increase agility or gain competitive advantage, there are two routes you can go down – you can license an off-the-shelf solution or you can develop your own, bespoke system. We discuss bespoke vs. off-the-shelf software below, the perceived advantages and disadvantages of both to help you make an informed decision on what is right for you.

Off-the-shelf software

Off-the-shelf software is software produced on a commercial level to meet the demands of the mass market. The most popular and widely used software is usually off-the-shelf, such as web browsers, apps and games. Microsoft Office, SalesForce, the Adobe suite, SAP and Sage are all examples of off-the-shelf solutions.

Advantages of off-the-shelf software

  • Less effort to implement
    Depending on the solution you choose, off-the-shelf software can be ready to begin using when you need it. In some cases, users just need to set up an account – usually with an email address and password. As soon as been provisioned on a device or in the could, users can browse and start using it. However, analysis, configuration and larger implementations can need a much bigger project, taking multiple years to complete, so it is not guaranteed to be a quick, straightforward launch.
  • Lower upfront costs
    Ready-made software usually has a low cost of entry because the main objective for off-the-shelf developers is to attract as many users as possible. Since you are not the only user paying for it, the initial cost is spread across the customer base. There can be hidden costs to this approach though, which we discuss more below.
  • Ready to use
    Before the software is released to the market, it has undergone extensive testing to ensure it is fit for purpose. You also usually have access to the developer’s customer service team to assist you with any enquiry or issue that you may have. This doesn’t mean that it is ready to meet your needs though, many companies still find they need workarounds or customisations to off-the-shelf solutions which contribute to complexity, inefficiency and a lack of security.

Disadvantages of off-the-shelf software

  • Hidden costs
    You may find yourself paying more than expected if you need extra, features, licenses or training for new members of staff. This is particularly significant if you have many users, leading to annual costs measured in tens or hundreds of thousands. See more in our recent blog, the hidden costs of off-the-shelf software.
  • May need to be customised
    Off-the-shelf solutions are often sold with the promise that they can be customised to meet your needs. This comes at an extra cost, as well as delaying when you are able to go-live. If you plan on making customisations, it is worth finding our costs and timescales beforehand as it is likely to be a lot more than you might think and delivery timescales can be significant!
  • Lack of scalability
    An off-the-shelf solution might meet your needs for now, but what about in future? Will it need to be replaced in a few years, costing you more than you initially budgeted for? As your business grows it can lead to increasingly complex technological requirements which cannot be met by a mass-market solution. It is important to consider where your business will be in a few years’ time and whether the solutions you are considering can evolve with you.

Bespoke software development

Bespoke software is a solution that is designed specifically to meet the needs of your business, and support your processes. Unlike off-the-shelf software, bespoke software can be used to address your specific requirements, working in harmony with you to build a framework that allows you to complete your processes efficiently.

Advantages of bespoke software development

  • Customised to meet your needs
    One of the key advantages of bespoke software is that, unlike off-the-shelf solutions, it is designed to meet your unique needs precisely, from the ground up. Everything you require is identified up-front and included in the development and can then be easily evolved as your business changes.
  • Increase efficiency
    Using software that doesn’t exactly meet your needs can be time-consuming and inefficient, often leading to the ad-hoc growth of un-approved sub-systems to make up for a shortfall in functionality and integration. By using a solution that was designed to meet your precise needs, processes can be handled from end-to-end in one integrated system, reducing the risk of data loss, security breach and errors, saving time and working more effectively.
  • Gain competitive advantage
    Whether it is by giving you a technological edge over your competitors, or by offering customers something they cannot get anywhere else, bespoke solutions can help you stand out against your competition, increasing sales and driving retention.  The net result – more profit and ultimately greater value for your business!
  • Greater agility
    When your business needs change you can amend your system to accommodate the new reality, whatever that may be. Unlike off -the-shelf products, there are no other users to consider and no waiting for your request to be accommodated (if it is accepted at all) by the provider.
  • Long-term assurance
    Once built, your solution will continue to serve you for as long as you need it. There are very few external factors that can prevent this. When you sign up to an off-the-shelf solution, you are in the hands of an external provider who may decide to make changes that you don’t like, take the solution off-line for maintenance at an inconvenient time or remove access to the service through ceasing to trade or mothballing the product.
  • Build resalable intellectual property
    When you build a bespoke solution, you are generating intellectual property (IP) which can be a valuable asset to your business.  If you have identified a gap in the market and developed a solution to fill it, there is the opportunity to license your product to other companies. KLOC has all the facilities to market, develop and support your IP, and you can be as involved as you like with the process – either helping to sell it or simply counting the income!

Disadvantages of bespoke software development

  • Greater initial outlay
    Developing a bespoke solution for your business typically requires more up-front investment while costing less once built than an off-the-shelf solution. It is worth noting though that with a bespoke solution, you only pay for what you need rather than paying for a wide range of functions that you may never use. Also, once your solution has been developed there will be no extra costs for additional licenses as you own the intellectual property. In fact, a bespoke solution can actually generate income from your business as we mention above.
  • Longer time to implement
    Companies often believe that an off-the-shelf solution with be immediately available while a bespoke solution will take longer to implement but this is not always the case. Although you don’t need to allow any time for development, large off-the-shelf implementations can still often take years to analyse, test, configure  and rollout across a business. With a bespoke solution, you need to allow time to understand your requirements, develop the solution and then thoroughly test it, but this will ensure that your solution is effective from launch and will meet your needs exactly.
  • Resource investment needed
    While both approaches require a thorough understanding of the requirement and a good oversite of the implementation, managing and testing a bespoke software development project requires input from you to ensure that the correct results are achieved. However, the time and effort to correctly configure an off-the-shelf solution should not be underestimated!

Bespoke vs off-the-shelf software

KLOC are experts in software development for web, mobile and desktop. The KLOC team have years of experience building bespoke business systems, mobile apps and high-end websites for a wide range of customers. We have several other blogs around deciding whether a bespoke software solution is right for your business:

If you have any questions about bespoke vs. off-the-shelf software, or would like to discuss your requirements, please fill out our contact form, call us on +44 (0) 1488 685112 or send us an email at