For many distribution, wholesale, and retail businesses, the pain of inefficiencies rears its ugly head most clearly during peak times of order traffic. Perhaps while evaluating your struggles from last holiday season (stock-outs, delayed orders, fulfillment problems, etc.), the subject of custom software development for your ERP system came up. If the idea of custom software immediately turned you off (or didn't sit well with the higher-ups), you might want to step back and give the topic some fair consideration.
Many businesses tend to shy away from custom software development for several reasons. Maybe you've had a bad experience in the past, or your overall understanding of custom development makes the process seem impractical for your business.
The truth is, custom software, when done right, can have a huge impact on your business and your ROI. Here are four common misconceptions about custom software that often prevent businesses from making crucial changes to their technology arsenal.
1. Custom software solutions don't actually work.
Maybe this isn't your first run-in with custom software, and your last experience was painful, to say the least. You probably shelled out a decent chunk of cash to a custom software company to build your requested solution. You wrote the check, you waited and waited, and then you finally received your much-anticipated solution — only to find out it didn't increase your efficiency or remove the specific ERP headache you wanted gone.
"For a custom software shop, understanding the customer's business is key to developing the right solution," says SalesPad business analyst James Williams.
Many negative custom software experiences come out of bad partnerships — working with software companies that didn't truly understand the needs of the business requesting the custom software.
"You're looking for custom software people that are creative thinkers. After having one conversation with them, you should feel like they understand your business, and not just your requirements," says Joe Alt, director of custom development at SalesPad.
You want to work with a smart custom software team — you want them to ask questions about your request that get the core of your business problem. If you're working with a good team, you might even find that your original request needs to be modified.
The truth is, it's easy to adapt a business around a bad piece of software and not even realize it. A good custom team will partner with you to get to the core of the problem you want to fix.
2. Custom software is too expensive.
Is custom software more expensive than an out-of-the-box (un-customized, default software) solution? Short answer: yes. However, as with any expense, the upfront cost of software should be compared to the long-term ROI it will provide. And, as SalesPad custom development manager Avery Martin says, custom development usually has an extremely high ROI over time.
"When you go down rabbit holes, adapting your business to workarounds and layering your workarounds, that's when it gets harder and harder to dig yourself out of a certain hole. You're layering pieces on top of other pieces just to get by, when you really need a clean solution from the ground floor," Martin says.
Ultimately, if your business has a clear need to adopt custom software to make your processes work, then you're better off saving time and money in the long run by trimming those inefficiencies sooner with a custom solution.
At SalesPad, we take the time to evaluate the specific business needs of every customer — regardless of whether they're going with our out-of-the-box desktop or cloud solutions, or doing custom development with us. Learn more about how we helped one company with customizable workflows and minimized clicks through EDI in this case study.
3. Custom software takes too long to implement.
It's easy to avoid custom software development because of implementation times — after all, why wait so long to implement when you can immediately purchase an out-of-the-box solution? The answer: because if you really need the custom work, it will be worth the wait.
Relating to the previous two points, it's also worth your while to find a custom software team that works with iterative development — meaning, that they deploy pieces of your custom project to you in multiple "iterations." This allows you test each piece, or iteration, and provide feedback to your custom team. Additionally, as the custom team works in "sprints" of adjusting pieces of the software to your feedback and delivering those pieces to you, you'll be able to see some of the ROI even sooner by implementing pieces immediately.
Of course, implementation time often depends on the size and span of a project. A quick custom fix may not require more than one delivery.
Ultimately, implementation will go faster and smoother if you choose a custom team that presents you with a clear plan of they will deploy your software to you.
4. Custom software is difficult to upgrade.
Let's go back to that unfortunate custom software scenario. After you received your disappointing piece of software, several weeks or even years down the road, you realized that the custom work made the system impossible to upgrade. You then found yourself on a completely separate version of your ERP software, and realized that if you ever want to upgrade, you'll have to replace the whole system. Not ideal.
The truth is, custom software doesn't have to be difficult to upgrade. This misconception likely comes from bad experiences with companies who customized software that wasn't meant to be customized.
According to Martin, many products aren't made to be customized. For example, SalesPad Desktop, an add-on to Microsoft Dynamics GP, is designed to be customizable.
"The whole application is intentionally designed from the start to be customized," Martin says. "So, one, we're not surprised when we get into custom work, and, two, you as the customer are not siloed once you do custom."
Tips for doing custom software right
Now that we've clarified some common misconceptions and debunked a couple myths, to recap, here are a few tips to keep in mind with looking for a good custom software team:
- Find a custom team that exhibits a desire to understand your business and its processes.
- Try to find a software team that tends to specialize in certain industry areas, rather than a one-stop shop of all kinds of solutions.
- Look for companies that are capable of or open to iterative software developments, so you can test your custom solution as its developed.
- Find a company that shows you a plan for the different steps of a project, how they plan to provide maintenance, and how they plan to deploy your application to you.
- Look for a company that's established and reputable, and is larger than just a few people.