Does my SME business need off-the-shelf software or customized software solution?

DashaIt’s a question that maybe some SME business owners ask themselves when thinking of automating their business but from my experience they don’t really care. SME business owner does not really care what is the official label “we” IT vendors put on our products or solutions, what matters is if it can do what it’s supposed to do, what they are paying for. And as SME business owner myself I totally understand that.
At the same time because we are IT vendor and compete on very rough market where anything and everything can be called anything and everything, its our responsibility to help SME business owners understand the difference so they won’t get lost when searching for solution to their day to day business challenges. Hopefully it will help them to prevent many costly mistakes and decisions when selecting their IT vendor and mainly frustration that often comes in the package too.

To start off, to me there is no direct competition between off-the-shelf software application or software as such and customized software solution if taken literally as one is ready made product that you take and use (even if IT vendor claims it can be customized to client’s requirements, many of them just say it but at the end are unwilling to do so) and second as name suggests is a solution (something crafted especially for you). Simple parallel would be buying clothes – sometimes you just need to walk into the shop and buy off the rack and sometimes you decide to go to tailor and have the suit or dress tailor made for you. When you analyze why you do that and what motivates you, you will be easily able to come up with the answer to the question of this blog yourself even in relation to software solution that your company needs.
Yes, you can always buy clothes off the rack and then customize them a bit here and there to suit you better, that’s also option when it comes to software solutions, but I am sure you would agree that tailors do not compete directly with clothes retail stores and that they are targeting different audience. Not necessarily different people as such, just people in different states of mind, with different motivation and different needs.

What are then factors or motivators for choosing one or the other when shopping for clothes? My husband went to tailor first time before our wedding and when he felt the difference between pants off the rack and the ones he got from tailor, he never went back to buy his office pants to the retail store. Yes, tailored made ones were a bit more costly and it took a little more effort to come up with final solution but the process was worth it as the pants can last longer, he doesn’t have to shop for them as often, they are of much higher quality, they are more comfortable and the moment he liked the tailor he goes back to him for his office shirts and suits also as now the tailor knows what my husband likes and how he likes it and its much easier to deliver to him faster and satisfactorily. Btw, I go to the same tailor for my pants too (basically everything that is supposed to look good on us and at the same time last for longer time as we use it quite often and it must be extremely comfortable too).
Here I need to stress one important thing. We got to know about this tailor through our friend who recommended him as she had very good experience with him. Believe me, even when selecting IT vendor or especially when selecting IT vendor – word of mouth or personal reference goes a long way, the chances of selecting rightly are much better. If that’s not possible, make sure you not just read testimonials of website but actually call people in those companies and ask about IT vendor personally.

To sum up, its actually very simple to know whether you need off-the-shelf software or customized software solution, isn’t it? Are you looking for something that can be re-purchased and changed often because its cheap or should it last as long as possible once everybody becomes familiar and used to it? Are you looking at automating some part of your business that is mostly standard (almost 98% same as in other companies) or something that is unique to your business and your company? Do you want to gain competitive advantage or you do not mind having what all your competitors have? Are you looking at short-term solution or long-term solution that would bring a major business improvement and business growth? Do you have time just enough to go to the “retail store” or do you have enough time to go to “tailor”? Are you willing to invest your time to establish relationship with “tailor” to make sure you get what you want the way you want it?

Don’t take me wrong, I don’t want to brag about customized software solutions. I strongly believe that some companies at certain point at their business lifetime are really better off with off-the-shelf software and should not go into customization until they feel real need for it or until they feel ready for it. It’s not advisable and that is why SMEs should really carefully consider what is the best solution for their company from current perspective and only then look for suitable IT vendor. It’s as simple as that.

Submitted by Dasha on Thu, 09/30/2010 - 14:46 | |