Custom Software? It’s the Way You Compete

Written by Marjorie Valin

July 13, 2021

If your business has any intention of remaining competitive, your organization must be able to adapt to rapidly moving markets. That used to mean paying for market and competitive intelligence from the same research companies your competitors used.

Software has changed the competitive playing field, especially software specific to your business that’s designed to address one of more problems that give you an advantage no one else has. For example:

  • A web portal to integrate customer data, product data, sales by brand, sales by territory and other data to inform the company what’s selling best, where, and under what conditions.
  • Software integration to connect proprietary data in one database with external databases to make the invisible, visible, and give sales reps more precise information to outsell their competitors.
  • Modernization of a legacy system to extend its life, eliminate work arounds, and consolidate data previously inaccessible for insights previously unattainable.

Off-the-shelf applications work fine as far as they go, but they are built for everyone and anyone, which gives no one an operating advantage.

Penny wise pound foolish

How much will it cost and how much will we make? That depends on what you need to do that you can’t do now. Off-the-shelf software may be capable of handling some or all of your needs. A good developer will tell you so. But there are hidden costs and drawbacks that may not be apparent until you’ve committed to a ready-to-use application.

Here are some pros and cons to consider.


Custom software means it’s yours and yours alone. You own it. It does exactly what you need it to do. No forced fit. An end to bottlenecks and workarounds. A custom application sets you apart from competitors relying on off-the-shelf software alone.

Custom apps can be designed with an eye toward the future. You have full control. You define your own requirements to achieve what you need and at your own pace. With custom applications, you start with a clean slate but without the need to reinvent the wheel. A good developer can design and configure your application to work with a variety of legacy systems to extend the life of your older software yet add new, enabling technologies.

No control with off-the-shelf

With off-the-shelf, as-a-service software, you don’t own it, so you are not in control over any changes. The applications that run your business are in the hands of a third party that controls the product development cycle and determines which functions and when you receive them. Developing your own application means you own it, control it and can modify and scale it as competitive needs change.

As you grow, your licensing fees grow

Most software now requires you to pay per-user license fees, meaning the more your organization grows, the more your costs increase. Over time, that will increase real cost.

SaaS workarounds 

Software should adapt to your workflow, not the other way around. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is one-size-fits-all, which can result in unnecessary workarounds that add time and expense in man-hours. In addition, chances are your competitors are using the same software as you, possibly from the same vendor. That means no technology-enabled advantages in the production, marketing or distribution of products and services.

Too much of a good thing

Off-the-shelf solutions offer a multitude of features and functions to cover the widest scope of scenarios. It’s almost certain that you don’t need all the functions, yet you are paying for them, as they are baked into the product. Do you really need to pay extra for features that aren’t relevant to your problem?

If you have never hired a software developer

There are questions you should ask that will help root out those who overpromise, inflate their qualifications or don’t have the requisite skills to do the job well.

  • What is their experiencing building applications that solve similar types of problems?
  • Have they been in business long? This is not always a good indication of skill or compatibility, but they may not have the depth of knowledge to look at the problem from all angles.
  • Have they spent time asking questions to understand your business and what you need to achieve, to determine what solution fits and what simply won’t?
  • Are they focused on completing the project or on solving your problem?  A lot of developers let clients tell them how to solve their problems, which almost always leads to bad solutions and wasted money.
  • What type of software engineers do they have on staff? There are front-end developers, full-stack developers, software testers and software architects responsible for the high-level design, roadmap and technical standards.
  • Ask if there were projects that ran over time or over budget. Sometimes there are good reasons, and an experienced software developer will be comfortable pointing those out. There are often unknown factors discovered through the course of building out requirements. One example might be a functionality not requested but later found to be necessary. See our case studies on web, mobile and data-centric platforms.
  • Take heed of red flags: a development schedule with a fast turnaround or an estimate that comes in lower than a quick online check would suggest. Inexperienced or untrustworthy developers can underestimate the time required and make promises they can’t keep.
  • Always ask for references from current or previous clients.

The good, the bad and the ugly

At Skyward, we have seen the misperceptions, assumptions and doomed shortcuts organizations have made, and more often than not, have to fix them. That is an unnecessary cost in time and money that could have been avoided had it been done right the first time.

The goal of any custom application is to improve business productivity and workflow and unify data to identify opportunities to save money and innovate. Custom apps and APIs that work as intended are imperative if you want to operate in a digital world.

Don’t know where to start or fix what was started?

We are a small development team trusted by global companies to expand their digital capacity or upskill their team. That should speak volumes about our caliber of work and the responsiveness of our people. Hear what our clients have to say. Then talk to us.

We will give you 60 minutes of our time to consult on your project. No obligation. No reason not to.

Let’s hop on a call.