Enterprise Application Delivery - Custom Build vs Off-The-Shelf
When enterprise businesses want to tackle a certain business need, they will turn to certain apps to supply them with the power and technical capability to solve them. This could be for a countless number of reasons.
Maybe it’s part of the effort to reduce technical debt that has built up over a number of development projects. Maybe it’s upon the realisation that legacy systems are causing bouts of inefficiency which is affecting productivity. Maybe there is a change in business strategy, market demands and consumer behaviour, which requires a business to develop an application specific to their requirements.
Whatever the reason, the answer is, more often than not, new applications. However, therein lies a question - just what type of enterprise application delivery solution should be used?
The key contrast here is between custom-built applications versus off-the-shelf software. What’s better? What’s more compatible with enterprise businesses? The answer is multifaceted. In this blog, we’ll be exploring the key elements of enterprise application delivery methods to answer the many questions you might have.
When it comes to applications, there’s a narrowing gap between what was traditionally seen as consumer-designed applications and what was seen as enterprise applications. Consumer apps typically fulfil consumer/personal needs. Enterprise or business applications fulfil business needs.
In many cases, these business needs go unfulfilled, leaving other departments developing their own applications that are not vetted by IT, which may create problems regarding security and with integration. This often results in increased costs and the production of technical debt, caused by rushing to a 'solution' that doesn’t truly meet business needs.
The further problem that this causes is enterprises sourcing bought solutions - the kind of applications that will always try and cater for a broad spectrum of needs. Businesses may find themselves paying a premium for a mass of amazing features without realising they don’t truly need them.
What they need are tools that are specific to them. They need solutions that are reliable, solutions that are a balance of customisation and purpose-built features. Essentially, enterprise businesses need to be aware of ‘one size fits all’ applications because, more often than not, they’re actually the wrong fit, with bells and whistles that can potentially take years to fully integrate.
There’s also an expectation for enterprise businesses to deliver applications for both their internal/external stakeholders, that provide functionality and efficiency quickly. Today, smarter development teams are utilising cloud-native application delivery architectures and Low-Code development platforms to design, create and deliver fit-for-purpose apps that are as scalable as the delivery model they’re provided by.
The outcome being the growing desire and demand for apps that are specifically designed for the work environment they’ll inhabit. The question is, should those apps be off-the-shelf builds or should they be custom made to fit more bespoke requirements?
In-house vs. off-the-shelf
There are a number of advantages to both custom and off-the-shelf builds that apply in different use-cases. For example, consider the Low-Code application development method - using this software, businesses can quickly turn around development projects, rolling out apps in a much shorter timeframe than it would take with traditional coding methods.
But what about off-the-shelf solutions? What advantages do they bring?
The advantages of off-the-shelf applications
More often than not, applications become a necessity in enterprise businesses, for a multitude of different reasons. Maybe an organisation needs an online employee portal to support project management, an app to track supply or distribution chains or any other of the countless functions that a business undertakes.
Enterprise businesses are also under difficult time pressures, especially when they depend on a certain application to streamline a specific process. This is the allure of off-the-shelf applications, which guarantee:
A fast rate of deployment.
Low upfront development costs.
Service contracts provided by third parties which include both maintenance and support.
However, they also guarantee high licensing fees which will be a consistent overhead for businesses using those applications.
For companies without the time or development teams to create apps, off-the-shelf will always be an incredibly attractive option. However, off-the-shelf builds have their drawbacks - namely that they’re never specifically built with one company in mind.
Pre-configured solutions work for a while, but over time they may develop limitations - things you can’t do that you need to. There’s usually no chance of updating these kinds of apps and sometimes even upgrades don’t truly provide the bespoke functionality you’re looking for.
Similarly, because off-the-shelf apps are designed to cater to broad audiences even in niche markets, there can be a lot of extra features that you simply don’t need, leaving you paying for more than you use. On a subscription-based contract, these costs add up and affect the overall ROI.
On top of that, businesses are limited to the solution they choose and will, more often than not, have no ability to produce multiple applications that suit a variety of business requirements.
The overall truth to remember here is that; businesses have to work with off-the-shelf apps, rather than the app being configured to work with them.
So how do custom build applications fill those gaps?
The business value of custom build applications
Custom build applications evidently take more time to onboard and develop than their off-the-shelf counterparts. However, the investment in time pays off through the following benefits:
Bespoke builds and customisation
Custom builds better meet the bespoke needs and requirements that off-the-shelf solutions can’t address. If there are very specific needs, apps can be built with those needs in mind, rather than:
Searching for a pre-built application that almost fits all the requirements, or
Shoehorning business processes into an app that only meets some of the needs
Due to the custom nature of bespoke builds, there’s also the opportunity for customisation, rarely offered with off-the-shelf apps. Custom builds allow for a degree of flexibility - if it gets to a point where new functionality needs to be added, that can be done rather easily.
Similarly, with custom-build opportunities afforded by Low-Code development platforms like OutSystems, businesses are enabled to build not just one app, but multiple applications that solve for the multitude of business requirements they most likely have. Using off-the-shelf apps in this regard limits you to one solution and would therefore require licensing multiple applications - a costly endeavour.
One of the most underrated benefits of custom-built applications is ownership. When developed by an in-house team, that company owns the source code and retains ownership of the product, which isn’t available when using off-the-shelf software.
It’s also worth noting that even when working with a development partner on an app development project, at the end of the day, that code and application is solely owned by the business it’s developed for.
For both custom builds and off-the-shelf apps, longevity is key. Now, with off-the-shelf solutions, longevity might not be truly captured. While there’s definitely the benefits of upgrades and maintenance, if the app isn’t fully responding to the business and market needs experienced by the user - be they internal stakeholders or customers - then this isn’t the long-term solution that was hoped for.
In comparison, custom-built applications can be built to address both current and future needs. Off-the-shelf solutions often lack the extensibility that comes naturally with custom-built applications, such as those delivered through Low-Code development platforms.
Additionally, when you are working through a Low-Code development platform, you can build applications that have multiple types of functionality, in contrast to off-the-shelf software which is usually designed to do one thing.
Without extensibility and agility, a business can be left returning to the drawing board every few years when they realise the app they are using no longer supports their processes.
Finding the right balance
With all these points in mind, it’s worth noting that it’s not necessarily a ‘one or the other’ situation. In many cases, enterprise businesses utilise a mixed approach, using off-the-shelf apps for their support and integrated capabilities, which are then developed upon using Low-Code applications that help bring the best of both worlds to a working environment.
Low-Code is a way of filling in the ‘grey areas’ that pre-built configurations either miss or were not designed to handle. In this regard, the ability to create and deliver custom functionality to quickly onboard off-the-shelf solutions is a real gamechanger.
Low-Code development platforms are key tools for enterprise businesses to positively impact their development capabilities, vastly reducing the time it takes for projects to be designed and up and running. If you’re curious to learn more about Low-Code development platforms and Low-Code itself, make sure to read our detailed guide.
The Low-Code comparison guide for enterprise businesses
Inside this guide, we cover the interesting advantages that Low-Code has over traditional coding methods. We also take an in-depth look into what Low-Code application development platforms there are on the market today.
We look into five of the best-performing, most popular platforms: OutSystems, Appian, Salesforce, Powerapps and Mendix. To see for yourself, just click the button below to begin your download.
What is Low-Code?
Maybe you’ve heard of Low-Code before but don’t know what it is or you have a small idea and would like to learn more. We’ve got the blog for you.
Click the link below to find out all about Low-Code and why it’s fast becoming the app development model of choice for enterprise businesses.