Is Bespoke worth it?

Bespoke and Off-the-Shelf software both have pros and cons. Sam discusses these and suggests how to help your business decide.


Since this is what we do at Ghyston, obviously I should be answering unequivocally yes here, right? But the truth is more complicated than that. The real question is, what’s the alternative? Here are some of the pros and cons:

You’ll notice the question mark against ‘Cheaper’. Again, it's not straightforward. I've worked with a number of companies that have chosen off-the-shelf software for cost reasons, and the adage that 'off-the-shelf' is cheaper doesn't always bear out. Lidl were in the news recently (German source) with the revelation that their 7-year €500 million SAP integration had been abandoned—and similar stories abound. One of our current clients abandoned a similar implementation a couple of years ago after a spend numbering well into 8 figures.
So what is happening to make these implementations so expensive? Why are these projects being abandoned, and how do the budgets for ostensibly 'off-the-shelf' software get so large?

The answer is customisation.

This brings us back to our original question—is bespoke software worth it? Sometimes the answer is clear—if the task you're doing is novel enough such that an off-the-shelf version doesn't exist, then bespoke is the only possibility. As an example, we recently built some software for a manufacturing company to help them balance their production lines; the solution was specific enough to their particular kind of manufacturing that means that there simply aren't any off-the-shelf alternatives.

When the answer is less obvious is when there are off-the-shelf solutions that exist for the kind of software that you need, but in order to get it to work for you then you would need to customise the software. Frequently this is for large enterprise resources planning, or ERP, systems.

The analysis of these options is often a service we provide in a technical discovery—an exercise well worth doing if the proposed systems could go either way—customised off-the-shelf, bespoke, or some mixture of the two.

Watch out for part 2 where we will go into more detail about this analysis process.


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