While many small businesses can make use of out of the box software, there are times when a more customized solution — either as a modification of existing software or something completely new — becomes necessary.
But what criteria determine when a customized solution, versus out of the box, is the right choice? When do you need to make a build versus buy software decision?
For the answer, Small Business Trends turned to Jim Hutchings, business analyst with Trifecta Technologies, a company that customizes software to fit a business’s needs more accurately. He provided the following ten tips:
Drivers Behind a Build versus Buy Software Decision
1. Manual Workarounds
The company may be using manual workarounds to accompany routine tasks because the software isn’t doing the job.
“When a task takes far longer to accomplish than it should, that’s the first sign the company is using manual workarounds, such as using Post-it notes to set reminders,” Hutchings said. “A customized solution can help in that case.”
2. Poor Adoption Rate
A poor adoption rate of existing software is another indicator customization may be necessary.
“If employees are going out of their way not to use the software, that’s a sign they don’t like it,” he said. “Forced adoption won’t lead to efficiency either but will result in workers griping and complaining.”
3. Difficulty Training
A company may need a customized solution when it’s difficult to train employees on out of the box software.
“It could be that the subject matter expert is unavailable to train or that the software is outdated and hard to use,” Hutchings said. “Also, the subject matter expert may take an ‘It’s easier to do it myself than train someone else’ attitude, due to the difficulty. In this case, a customized solution would be tailored to the business’s needs.
4. Unsupported Sales Process
There may be times when the customer relationship management (CRM) software in use does not fully support the sales process. To illustrate, Hutchings recalled an instance when a client’s CRM software couldn’t satisfy the need for contracts with a special pricing model.
“We added a component that used a custom workflow to go through a specific rules-based process to accommodate the client,” he said. “It streamlined the sales process in a way that the out of the box software was unable to.”
5. Multiple Software for a Single Job
Another case where customization becomes a factor is when various pieces of software are required to accomplish a single job — what Hutchings referred to as the “Frankensteining” of software.
“This approach isn’t wrong by definition, but it produces inefficiencies,” he said. “If you can’t use just one piece of software, there’s a problem.”
Hutchings listed two examples to make his point.
“Using Word instead of Excel to make a table is one example,” he said. “CRM is another. Using a CRM program for most of the sales funnel but adding Excel spreadsheets for reporting — you’re not getting true efficiencies.”
6. System Conversion
A business unhappy with one software program may want to migrate to another, a task that’s not always easy.
“Moving data from one system to another can be an arduous task that might require custom work,” Hutchings said. “In that case, a software customizer would build an engine that converts the data for you automatically.”
7. Automation Requirements
Anytime a business would benefit from automation is an indication it needs custom software, according to Hutchings.
“If you’re just selling things — using point of sale software to make a change, for example — you might be okay with an out of the box solution such as Square or Clover,” he said. “But if there is any tie to payroll, timesheets, accounting, inventory, purchasing, supply chain management or forecasting, it’s best to put in a custom solution.”
8. Scalability and Business Growth Considerations
Out of the box software may lack flexibility or scalability, inhibiting business growth.
“Customization is needed in that case, to support growth,” Hutchings said. “A company can take a phased approach, adding different functionalities or expanding to different user groups incrementally over time.”
9. Custom Branding or Design
A company may benefit from custom branding or design as a way to differentiate itself from competitors. Hutchings cited Carlo’s Bakery (home of the “Cake Boss”) as an example.
“[Trifecta] built a point of sale system that utilized an iPad where, among other things, a customer in concert with the baker could make a custom cake from the ground up,” he said. “Also, as lines began to form around the corner following the debut of the TV show, employees could go out and use the iPad to take orders, reducing the wait time. It helped retain customers.”
10. Licensing Fees
A final criterion for deciding whether out of the box or custom software is best suited to the business has to do with license fees, which, according to Hutchings, can be cost-prohibitive.
“Price is the number one aspect,” he said. “Licensing fees for out of the box software can be very expensive, in which case custom can be less costly in the long-term. It’s not unlike leasing versus purchasing a car.”
Hutchings added the following advice, to aid in the software buying decision-making process:
“Analyze the ROI to ensure you can make your money back,” he said. “A $5,000 budget may be all that’s required to build a custom solution. Just be sure you can make your money back in efficiencies or economies of scale.”
Hutchings said that businesses should first vet out of the box software, to see if it satisfies the requirements, and then look at custom options as the need arises.
He also advised that companies do not forget the hidden costs associated with user adoption, such as training, and that they be aware of lost opportunity costs, which could require a budget increase.
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