Build or Buy Systems? A comparison between Custom & Off-the-shelf Software 

Investing in a software project requires considerable planning, due diligence, & execution to extract real value in terms of ROI. In other words, if you achieve good ROI, the software project is successful and achieving this is no easy feat. When selecting the right software for your business, you will often have two choices, off-the-shelf software or custom software built by a software development company

It is imperative that your business selects the right software path. It is a major investment and making the right choice can have a severe impact on business success. This article compares the benefits and drawbacks of commercially available off-the-shelf software and custom software development. 

Off-The-Shelf Software 

Commercially available off-the-shelf software is designed and developed with distribution to multiple customers in mind. Software is designed to appeal to a wide target market with myriad features. Off-the-shelf software developers strive to strike a balance where they produce feature-rich applications but not too many as to dissuade potential customers. A number of off-the-shelf companies aim to solve the problem associated with too many features by modularizing software products. The foundational technology or the features that are most frequently used or sought after are provided. The software could then be customized to provide more features through APIs. 


  • Products are often sold on a subscription basis that includes support and updates. They include a dedicated support team that can fix complex problems. The support team rarely sees a problem that it cannot fix or a problem that it has not seen before. 
  • Off-the-shelf software companies are highly profitable, their costs are spread across the customer base. This means that the company has plenty of resources to allocate for software upgrades and support. 
  • Off-the-shelf software could be set up and configured extremely quickly. This can be ideal for startups or businesses that require swift implementation. 


  • These products lock you into a contract with an off-the-shelf software provider. If you do not like the product, the only option would be to discontinue use of the software product. 
  • In case customization is required to suit your business, the work needs to be funded, planned, and executed making it much like a custom software development project. 
  •  Finding software development staff with specific expertise on the off-the-shelf product’s API can be difficult and may require additional training. 
  • Providers often discontinue older versions of their product. This is an indirect way of forcing existing clients to upgrade. Support is discontinued as older applications may no longer be stable or secure.

Custom-Built Software 

Custom software is built by ascertaining the specific requirements of your enterprise. Software is developed in-house in some cases but most often built by external software consultants or contracted software development companies. If you have a highly specialized or unique business model, this is the best approach for you. 


  • Custom software could be developed with a future road map that facilitates scaling and expansion with ease.
  • Custom software evolves with your business providing exactly the features you require 
  • It is usually built by a dedicated team that understands your business model, your goals, and the problems you intend to resolve. 
  • You are the owner of the final software product. Only you can put it out of commission. 
  • You pay for and get precisely what you need, within the time frame you specify. 


  • Custom software can be very costly and time consuming to develop. 
  • Custom software takes longer to implement and test when compared with off-the-shelf software.
  • They do not include ongoing technical support after the product is implemented in most cases. You may be charged extra for change requests, modifications or even technical assistance by the development company. 

Ultimately, the approach you take to get your software developed depends on the cost. It is always wise to consider off-the-shelf options if your budget is not very big or if you’d like to implement the software as soon as possible. It might be worth considering the reputation of your software provider and the level of support they offer. Modern businesses depend on software to run operations and the decision associated with software investment requires great care and due diligence.