Build vs Buy Software: A Tricky Choice to Make


build vs buy software

If you are a business owner various choices beset you in addition to those that average people face. Being in charge of an e-commerce enterprise, for instance, you have to choose between CRM and ERP solutions, employees with various qualification levels, major payment models, and so on. In the contemporary high-tech world, the most crucial are the choices that relate to software employed for commercial purposes. And it’s not only about the preference for certain types of applications or the best software development framework. Here you must decide upon a more global dilemma – build versus buy software.

Off the Shelf Software vs Custom Written Software: Choice-Determining Criteria

Before opting for either kind of it, it is necessary to realize the difference between off the shelf and custom software. An off the shelf product (aka canned solution) is the one that is released by a developer for the mass consumption. The very meaning of the “off the shelf” phrase presupposes that the product is ready to be used right after purchasing and contains a maximum number of features that meet the requirements of an average consumer. Bespoke software is developed for a specific user and customized for their unique needs.

 There are several critical considerations that factor into the ultimate choice between an off the shelf solution and custom made software.

  • Available budget. This is a point of departure for all your decision-making procedure. How much are you ready to fork out for the software of your dream? The definition of the sum may rule out one of the alternatives (typically more expensive custom written software). However, don’t fall into the trap of going by numbers indicated in the price list while trying to gauge the cost of the boxed solution. The vendor may offer a scalable pricing policy that may depend on the size of your database or your processors, which may rack up the initial bid considerably.
  • Time to market or to use. This is another calculation that may seem simple at first sight since buying may appear a momentary action after which you hope to start using the acquired software right away. Yet, in fact, you will need around a month to implement, for instance, some SaaS products. But even that term is much shorter in comparison to the time you will have to wait for your tailor made software.However, the software you will use may have to need scaling every couple of years since you plan to expand your business. So you will have to buy a new COTS (that is Commercial Off-The-Shelf) product quite soon while the custom built solution may last with little or no alterations for five years minimum. Thus, the issues of money and time spent intertwine to help you with the choice.
  • Manpower at your disposal. If you lack the qualified staff to develop the product in house build or buy dilemma becomes irrelevant. Moreover, personnel with inadequate expertise may cause issues even with the off the shelf package that you have acquired by mishandling it or being unable to fix problems thus making your expenditure soar. The absence of a competent team doesn’t confine your choice to COTS, though. You can outsource software development to a dedicated team of experts.
  • Your specific needs. Before making a choice you should define your expectations. What do you want your software to do? Is there any available software that can meet your requirements? Can such products give you a competitive edge? Going through this checklist you will probably see that your online furniture selling company doesn’t need something extraordinary to carry on your business successfully so a boxed solution will do.Having done this preliminary analysis you still have to clearly realize the pros and cons of off the shelf software in comparison to the tailor made products.

Off the Shelf Software vs Custom Software: A Juxtaposition

In fact, we don’t have to go through both merits and demerits of each approach since the benefits of one are shortcomings of the other. What are the advantages of a canned software solution?

Lower Expenditures

Since making to order presupposes manufacturing a unique product, the development of even compact class bespoke software will cost you between $3,000 and $10,000 while the price for a solution of the extravagant class is likely to top $40,000. Instead, boxed software can be sold almost wholesale considering the number of consumers who use it. Thus, vendors can spread out the cost making their earnings by sheer numbers. As a result, such products are significantly cheaper.

 However, opting for off the shelf software you should realize that you buy the license that has an expiry date after which you will have to pay for its renewal. Also, you should read into the contract to avoid additional payments for excessive data or processor type. Preferably, to make it cost-effective, it should be a per-user or per-server license. 

Quicker Implementation

Off the shelf software is ready to be used instantly (after proper installation, of course) while there are examples of custom development procedure that takes up more than a year. And it may well appear that being through with the toil of designing, building, and testing you realize that the software is out of date or you need a totally different product since your business goals have shifted.

Frequent Updates

Conventionally, vendors see to it that their product is constantly enhanced so introducing new features is their reputational responsibility. Typically, you have to pay a support fee to install the updates, but even with this regular expenditure item, the overall cost of boxed software is lower.

Lower Risk and Higher Security

Off the shelf packages have been tested by manufacturers and used by other customers before, which is a guarantee that they are safe. Moreover, a good vendor prioritizes security by implementing software and data protection measures so that clients can be sure they won’t have any security breaches or bugs. If your choice is custom development you will have to see to all these details yourself running the risk that the software may not actually deliver to boot.

Community Support

It is an additional source of assistance you may avail yourself of since tried boxed solutions have sizable communities of users as well as Q&A forums that you can address in case you need advice or aid.

With all this said, off the shelf solution may seem a perfect option. Yet, tailor made software has its fortes. 

Total Control

Since it is your brainchild, you are free to customize it to fit your unique conditions and modify it whenever a need arises. You can always be sure that it will be compatible with your existing software so no configuration bother is anticipated, which usually looms if you buy the software. Besides, you are free from licensing restrictions and the necessity to buy a new product when the license expires. Finally, you can even sell the product you have developed under your own brand, thus turning the expenditure piece into a revenue-generating item.


If you have a far-reaching strategy that envisages an intense growth of the company within the foreseeable future custom written software should be your choice since you can always scale it up to adjust its capabilities to the advancement pace of your business. It makes sense even more with the view to the potential waxing of the enterprise that promises involvement of greater finance and increment of personnel. 

Prompt Addressing Challenges

What is the routine procedure of fixing a flaw in an off the shelf product? In case you have found it you inform the vendor at their support site by submitting a ticket. As soon as they find time to consider your plea they will attempt to recreate the bug on their own hardware. But don’t imagine they will fix it right away. Typically, the vendor slates the bug patching for their next release that may come on the scene in a couple of months. It is especially distressing if the bug is related to security so you may have to use unsafe software for what will seem an eternity. With tailor made software it is much faster – you inform your development department and they tackle the issue hammer and tongs.

One more important advantage of the software you develop yourself is that you always know what to expect of it. With the canned solution, you should approach carefully the process of choosing one.

Criteria for Selecting Off the Shelf Software

Even if you have firmly opted for an off the shelf solution your agonies of choosing aren’t over. Now you are to pick the package that will be a perfect fit for your company. There are several questions you should ask yourself to check whether your choice is right.

  • Does it provide the functions you expect from the software?
  • Does its cost correspond to the functionality?
  • Is it flexible enough to enable a certain degree of customization?
  • Is it easily and quickly installed?
  • Does it have good documentation and positive references?
  • Does the vendor provide support and post-installation maintenance?
  • Is the vendor easily accessible?

If you answered in the affirmative to all these questions the software that you are reviewing ticks all the boxes, so you can go ahead and buy it. 

A Recap: Making Build vs Buy Software Decision

In view of the presented arguments, one can conclude that a boxed solution would be the most sensible choice if your company is a robust startup on short commons that lacks the requisite development team but inspires to conquer the market as soon as possible. Once the stage of precarious survival is behind you and the company has gained serious momentum expanding both the reach and the staff you can think of creating bespoke software that will dovetail into your vision of the enterprise’s ongoing functioning and future growth.

Whatever you pick this choice is sure to tell upon your business and no one can make it but you. Yet, there is one more approach that allows you to mitigate the anguish of choosing and even get the best of both worlds – go hybrid! It can be achieved by acquiring an off the shelf product (typically, some open-source software) that is as close to your requirements as might be and then customizing it to make up for the deficiencies it has. Multi-Programming Solutions is ready to help you in this task by offering top-notch expertise and considerable experience of delivering high-quality results.


Picking tailor made software or an off the shelf package may be hard so you should realize that it is basically a control vs cost alternative. By listing your assets and requirements you can choose the approach that will fit best with your current resources and development strategy. 

TechnologiesSeptember 8, 2020
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