Six reasons to avoid bespoke software – and why they’re all poppycock

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There are a lot of preconceptions around software development. Given what we do, the ones we encounter most relate to the cost, strengths or weaknesses of custom-built software as opposed to off-the-shelf solutions. Here, then, are the six biggest reasons we hear to avoid bespoke software – and why they’re all nonsense.

1) Off-the-shelf software does everything we need

It might do. Whether you’re after ERP, CRM, business intelligence, analytics – whatever – there’s an off-the-shelf package that covers most business needs. The problem is, boxed products aren’t designed for your business: they come with a whole bunch of features you don’t need and won’t use. If you’re lucky you can opt out of some, but the rest will be there clogging up the UI, making for a confused user experience, and probably costing you money.

2) Off-the-shelf software does everything we need, part two

It might not do. You’re the experts in what you do, but you’re probably not experts in software. Talking to experts will help you understand not just what you need from software, but what’s actually possible with it. Asking a software partner to explore and understand the context for your systems can unlock all kinds of opportunities that an off-the-shelf deployment simply won’t reveal.

3) Custom software is expensive

It can be, but off-the-shelf products often have hidden costs.

Here’s an example: a new client asked us to evaluate and plan the company-wide rollout of the leading software product for its industry. Not only did we identify some shortcomings, but once the price was updated to include the necessary integrations and third-party licensing the cost ballooned. Ultimately, we delivered a custom system with better user experience and greater functionality – for almost half the price.

4) We can’t hook third-party software into a custom package

Nonsense. It’s usually much easier – and cheaper – than doing the same for an off-the-shelf product.

5) If our software is bespoke for us now, what if we change?

Done properly, custom software is designed for the long-term. At Red River, we get to know not just your organisation, but the industry it operates in, and we design software to support business growth and change. Having said that, neither of us can predict the future: as your development partner, we’ll be here to make whatever changes you need.

6) Ah, but what if you disappear?

We’ve been around a decade, and we’re sticking around for decades more. Should every one of us be cruelly struck down by coders’ elbow, other developers will be able to pick up our code and run with it: everything we write is documented, standards-based, and written in recognised and widely supported languages. And in most cases you’ll own your custom software – in the unprecedented event that we have a falling out, you can simply walk away with it.


So there you have it. We recognise that software decisions aren’t always simple, and that sometimes going with a standard package is the right choice. Whether you want our technical expertise for an evaluation, or to discuss custom alternatives, or simply need some unbiased advice, give us a shout: we’re always happy to help.

Featured image by Kelly/Flickr, Creative Commons

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