Finding the right software these days can be difficult, as many software companies have become better at marketing their products than building them. When you begin your search for a new software application, there are four basic categories to consider:
- Custom application
- ERP/CRM implementation (enterprise resource planning/customer relationship management)
- Low-code platform
- Off-the-shelf software
Each of these options comes with advantages and disadvantages from both technical and non-technical perspectives, with many dimensions to consider when making your choice. Identifying how these criteria matter to you is the core of the selection process. Several items may be relevant to your business: business process alignment; automation and scale; business intelligence capabilities; platform vision; and intellectual property.
Let’s walk through the basic pros and cons of each category.
This option provides you full control over what the application does and how it works. It creates high alignment with your processes and minimizes the disruption of working with new software. In addition, it gives you full control over what will be added next and when. A software platform designed for your business helps define how it runs and removes dependencies on any one person to ensure everything runs according to plan.
From a non-technical standpoint, it will likely have a higher price tag for initial setup compared to other options, but the lowest price tag for ongoing costs.
Custom applications give you the option to decide when and to what degree to add new features, while other options involve the vendor making those decisions on behalf of all users.
This category contains several core features and the ability to customize most. Standard features such as contacts, inventory and accounting are available and have been used thousands of times. If the standard setup does not match your needs, it can often be customized.
Established companies generally have a large number of knowledgeable professionals attached, so those resources are available in the future.
Setup costs are typically lower than custom as many standard features are available out of the box, yet ongoing costs are higher compared to other options. In most cases, all users of the system must have a license, whether they be staff or customers. These costs are perpetual but can include some level of support. Pricing is typically per user rather than feature, which can lead to paying for features you don’t use in order to access a few you do. If the enhancement you need for your business is in high demand by many other users, it can appear quickly. If not, there may be an extended timeline.
Larger customizations can require rework when a new version of the platform is available. While a key advantage of a platform is leveraging features available out of the box, if your needs do not align closely, it can become expensive to maintain.
A no/low-code platform offers the ability to rapidly build functionality. Most of these platforms are fairly easy to learn and may not require a technology professional to deploy. New features are added regularly, and support is included in the monthly fees.
From a technical standpoint, a no/low-code platform only offers the ability to configure, not customize. Many require the same configuration to be re-entered in multiple places. If configuration is not available, your only resolution is to ask the vendor to add the item you need.
While offering basic functionality, many of the features that would be expected of a company-wide system are not available through no/low-code platforms, such as personalization and granular security. In addition, not many will support integration to relational databases (or will charge fees to do so). A license is typically required for everyone that uses the system.
This category is generally designed for a more specific purpose or industry than ERP/CRM or no/low-code platforms. This can mean features are better aligned to your business, and future enhancements are meaningful to the niche the platform operates within, making it more likely they will be relevant to you.
From a technical standpoint, most off-the-shelf software is not customizable by the end user. Customizations are frequently provided by the vendor via contract, and ongoing maintenance fees for the customization are typically involved. Small- to mid-size companies in this space are often bought by larger companies looking to grow their user base. Following acquisition, support for the original platform could vary from forced migration to a new platform to no change at all.
Most off-the-shelf software vendors typically require consultants for installation, training and setup. There is little intellectual property value outside of the knowledge developed by your staff to use the platform.
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about. If you are looking for the right software and would like some help along the way from someone who has done many before, reach out to Fluent Consultants.
Fluent Consultants supports some of Kansas City’s most notable emerging and midsize companies with proven software and data solutions and has for more than 20 years. But at our core, we’re a team of experienced problem-solvers and collaborators helping businesses effectively use new technologies to achieve their business goals. We proudly leverage decades of shared wisdom and business savvy to help our clients exceed their own expectations and accelerate business innovation and growth.