In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, businesses are often faced with the decision of choosing between customised systems or off-the-shelf solutions for their web development needs. Both options come with their unique set of advantages and potential drawbacks, and understanding these can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your business goals and technical requirements. Here at Silkstream, we’re exploring the key differences, benefits, and considerations to help you determine which is better for you: customised systems or off-the-shelf solutions.

Understanding Customised Systems

Customised web systems are exactly what the name suggests – a web system entirely bespoke to the unique requirements and goals of your business. A custom web system can provide you with a wide range of different functionalities depending on what you need from your web-based application, mobile application, customer-facing website or back-office system, ensuring that you can operate and meet goals effectively. Custom systems are typically built from scratch, from the ground up, offering an entirely bespoke and entirely unique experience that not only results in a system that does everything you need it to, but one that you can be confident will suit your business needs.

Advantages of Customised Systems:

  • Tailored Functionality: Each bespoke system is designed to fit your exact needs and specifications, ensuring that you get everything you need for your business without any excess features that could overcomplicate the system or mean that you are paying for more than you need.
  • Integration: If you have existing systems or workflows in your business, custom systems can often be integrated with what you are already using. This ensures that you don’t have to make any huge changes within the business itself in order to adopt a new and improved system. 
  • Scalability: A custom system isn’t a one-size-fits-all. We understand that businesses grow and change as the years go by, which makes customised systems perfect for adapting to evolving needs. A custom system can be scaled up or down according to changes, with modifications for new functionalities and integrations possible as you go.
  • Competitive Edge: A customised web system gives you something entirely unique and different that no other competitor in your market will have. It allows you to put focus where it’s needed most and can be tailored to customer service, user experience and more.

Considerations for Customised Systems:

  • Cost: Depending on the needs of your business, a custom system can work out a little more expensive upfront compared to an off-the-shelf solution. However, the price you pay will be put into a system where every feature is useful or necessary, rather than excess features or functionalities that you may not use.
  • Development Time: The time it takes to develop a custom system is necessary in order to produce something truly custom to your business, and therefore development time is something you need to keep in mind.
  • Maintenance: Where an off-the-shelf system may receive regular updates and maintenance that you can simply download, a custom system will require a more hands-on approach to maintaining it. In many cases, however – such as with our team here at Silkstream – your developer will remain on hand with support and maintenance following the creation of your system to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Understanding Off-the-Shelf Solutions

Off-the-shelf web applications and solutions are generally a one-size-fits-all, pre-built application that is available to a broad audience. They are typically ready to use ‘out of the box’ or with minimal configuration and with a considerable number available on the market today, most businesses can typically find a system that will cover their needs. They can also be beneficial for industries that are heavily governed or with significant legislation to follow – off-the-shelf usually means that the system is well-vetted and passes a huge range of stringent quality checks, which can often work out more cost-effective than working on a custom system that does the same. 

While they do offer quick deployment, support and updates, they may also raise issues with scalability, limited customisation for your business and can leave you with a dependency on the vendor you choose. 

Advantages of Off-the-Shelf Solutions:

  • Cost: Off-the-shelf solutions can be more affordable upfront compared to custom systems, as the cost of development and deployment is spread across a wider audience. The nature of an off-the-shelf system, however, does mean you may be paying for more features than you need.
  • Compliance: Most off-the-shelf systems, particularly those designed for a specific industry, will have gone through rigorous testing and compliance assessments. For businesses in industries such as healthcare, finance or legal areas, an off-the-shelf system can be a more cost-effective way to ensure your system is compliant with the needs and requirements of your industry.
  • Quick Installation: As the system is designed to suit a number of businesses and users across the country or even the world, most off-the-shelf web systems are designed to be quick to deploy and install. 
  • Support and Updates: Off-the-shelf systems usually come from big companies, which can mean access to regular updates and support from the company’s technical support. 
  • Word Of Mouth and Reliability: With an off-the-shelf system, there is a high chance that a number of businesses have adopted the system before you, which gives you access to information, reviews and word-of-mouth insights into how reliable a system is.

Considerations for Off-the-Shelf Solutions:

  • Limited Customisation: While off-the-shelf systems can often be configured to your business to a certain extent, they can often fall short of your needs. In some cases, they may meet your business needs, but also come equipped with a lot of cluttered features that you don’t need. This limited customisation can sometimes mean ending up with a ‘clunky’ or overstuffed system.
  • Scalability: Very few off-the-shelf systems offer any kind of scalability. General growth within the business is usually accounted for, but any key changes to the features you need or the integration you require and the system may no longer be fit for use. 
  • Vendor Dependency: When using an off-the-shelf system, you can become reliant on the vendor of choice to keep the system running, up-to-date and fix any problems such as broken features or technology changes. It can mean waiting a considerable amount of time.

Making the Decision: Which is Better for You?

The choice between customised systems and off-the-shelf solutions will ultimately depend on the needs of your business in the long-term. While businesses in heavily regulated industries may benefit from an off-the-shelf system they know is compliant, other businesses can benefit from a customised system that meets every need of their business and sets them apart from competitors. Your key considerations should be:

  • Budget: Your company’s budget will often play a significant role in the decisions you make, and web systems are no exception. However, it’s also worth considering that the upfront cost isn’t the only budget consideration – custom systems can be more expensive and more of an investment to start with, but are scalable and customisable beyond the first deployment. Off-the-shelf software is often cheaper up front, but may need to be replaced down the line to cater for scalability. 
  • Business Needs: What requirements do you have for your web systems? What does your business or client base need? For those with more complex needs or who have unique requirements, a custom system can be a better choice. For those with simple needs or who need a system that adheres to regulations in your industry, off-the-shelf may be best.
  • Timescale: Everyone wants a quick solution, and off-the-shelf systems offer that. However, the additional time taken to produce a custom web system is often more than worth the wait. The extra time to produce a unique system can ensure that you save time and money in the long run. 
  • Growth: If you’re anticipating big or significant changes in your business, a custom system is often the best way forward. They offer more scalability and flexibility, and new features can often be added without having to opt for an entirely new system. 

Both customised systems and off-the-shelf solutions have their place in the web development landscape – the key is to carefully evaluate your business requirements, budget, and long-term goals. Our team here at Silkstream are on hand to help you navigate these choices and find the perfect fit for your business. Contact us today to discuss your needs and start your journey towards the ideal web solution for your company.