When I wake up in the morning and look at my phone or log onto my computer to deal with the myriad of things I do, I am dealing with software that has been created to serve those purposes. The software that I use to check email, utilize social media, open a weather app, read the news, write an article, or work on writing and recording music is primarily done on commercial, general-use applications. Whether this be done via mobile apps on my phone, desktop apps on a computer, or web apps in a browser, this is what most everyday people work with and deal with.
By contrast, Custom Software Development is done when there is a need or a place where what is available “off the shelf” will not fit my needs. This is more common inside of organizations: The customers are not a distant set of people looking to buy a software product that we create; instead, they are our co-workers, trying to accomplish the tasks they need to do each day. Or, we might notice that there is a need in the market for an existing product to do something differently, or to act or perform in a way that the core product cannot do.
At present, I work in a group where that is our specialty. We create custom software for organizations to take data and transform it to be used by other applications. Put simply, this is not something any off-the-shelf product can do for us or for our customers. We have to “reinvent the wheel” frequently. It’s a fun challenge but make no mistake, it has its challenges.
What is Custom Software Development?
When an organization has a need for functionality that pre-packaged software cannot address, the next step is to make an agreement with a development team to create “bespoke” software to fit that need. Think of the difference between an off-the-rack suit, dress, or pair of shoes. For many, these will work adequately. For some people, however, the fit will never be quite right due to body proportions that don’t fit the mold. In these cases, having custom clothing and shoes made might be necessary. Custom software works the same way.
There are distinctions that have to be made if a custom software project is going to be part of your future:
- Custom software needs to be specifically targeted to a particular problem space or issue.
- Custom software will require a specific roadmap and plan as to what the software will need to do.
- Custom software will require development expertise that may not be part of your current development team.
- Custom software will be more expensive than an off-the-shelf software solution.
In many cases, since custom software is often an internal need to an organization, it will be a business expense. The Return on Investment (ROI) may be increased productivity, better performance, or easier to complete workflows, but determining the cost vs value is less obvious than making a software product to sell to others.
Why is Custom Software Development Important?
The group I work in does exactly this. My company sells a product that primarily addresses Human Resources teams. When you think of things like employee training, employee performance evaluations, compensation, etc., we have a suite of products that address those needs. For many of our customers, what we offer meets their needs. However, at times they have a particular need to take data from one system and load it into another, or otherwise require that the data they provide to their customers be formatted or made available in a different way than how the product was initially designed. This is when our team comes in.
Every custom project will require a different solution (re: custom software development). While there are variations on a theme, most of the time we deal with situations where large amounts of data need to be imported, examined, transformed, and exported/handed off to other services for further processing or actions. This requires a broad skill set and people on the team to not just be good at programming. We also have to take into account data security, scaling, performance, multi-vendor interactions and the services to implement that allows us to run all of these in unique ways for a variety of companies, often at the same time and with none of our customers knowing about what we are doing for other customers. Does that sound a little intimidating? At times it certainly intimidates me but it’s a fun challenge to take on. While it may seem like doing bespoke Software Development will be expensive (and yes, it certainly can be) the ultimate goal is that the service provided by custom Software Development will enable better throughput, better performance, and easier workflows. It may take time to reap the benefits but in the long run, that custom work should do that and do it better than trying to shoe-horn an off-the-shelf product to perform in a way it was not optimally designed to.
While it may seem like doing bespoke Software Development will be expensive (and yes, it certainly can be) the ultimate goal is that the service provided by custom Software Development will enable better throughput, better performance, and easier workflows. It may take time to reap the benefits but in the long run, that custom work should do that and do it better than trying to shoe-horn an off-the-shelf product to perform in a way it was not optimally designed to.
Key Enablers of Custom Software Development
All right, we have decided that a custom Software Development project is in our future. We have done an assessment of the needs of said project. We have reached out and we have gathered the necessary people to perform this work. We are ready to go… or are we? Let’s take a step back and consider some areas that might have been missed in our conversations.
Are all of our customers using the same technology? Will we need to work with a system our customers already have? For internal projects, this is usually decided up front as we tend to know what our internal technology stack is. However, we may need to play the role of mediator between multiple systems, and those systems may not have the same underlying coding languages, or they may be a mix of on-premises and cloud systems. There may be multiple databases that need to be worked with from different vendors. At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure everything “plays nice” together.
Proprietary vs Open Source Development
In many cases, we might be the team that develops a solution but then we hand it off to our customers and let them take it the rest of the way. What might that look like? Do we provide them with a black box of code that they plug in and say, “Call us if anything goes wrong!”? Do we create the basic system and then give them a robust API (and directions as to how to use and extend it) so that they can do additional work in the future?
For many of our customers, we do an on-our-premises Software Development using our choice of programming languages, development tools, and basic infrastructure to use our services. We then hand off an API that allows our customers to access those services in any way they see fit, often without additional input on our end.
Many organizations are leveraging the cloud to help with scalability, rapidly expanding the size and footprint of systems as needs scale. While the old joke about the cloud still stands (“The cloud isn’t magic, you’re just using someone else’s computer!”), the fact that those systems are there, ready, and able to be spun up at a moment’s notice, can be a life saver. This is especially true when it comes to system deployments and also when it comes to creating build systems for software. Custom projects may be small, they may be massive, but most likely they will never be the same thing twice. Having the ability to tailor what you need is essential. For more about this topic (specifically as it relates to build systems), see this post on the LogiGear Blog.
It is estimated that, by 2024, low-code application development will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity. This allows for more people with varying capabilities to be effective inside your team for custom projects. There will always be a need for skilled and seasoned programmers but many teams can benefit from areas where the need for specific deep programming skills are not as essential.
Consider Jenkins and Blue Ocean integration as a possible example: These systems have a broad range of configuration capabilities that have a lower barrier to entry than more traditional Software Development environments, meaning that individuals can scale up and be effective in ways that have traditionally been harder for junior team members to get involved and be effective.
Custom Software Development really pushes the boundaries of what teams can effectively do Often custom projects require a rapid turnaround and the reuse potential of work done previously will vary. This would be a great opportunity to look at how to leverage the resources of your entire team and help them be as effective as possible. Moving towards a DevOps model can be advantageous in these environments as it allows for teams to get involved at all levels of the projects in question and put an emphasis on producing high-quality software at every stage of the development cycle, as well as after delivery with monitoring and continuous feedback. Additionally, with continuous focus on monitoring and feedback, decisions about scalability can be made in a timely manner. Regardless of the approach, custom projects are rarely “one and done”.
Custom, bespoke Software Development projects can sound daunting but with the proper preparation, team, tools, and infrastructure in place, we can be successful and help our customers, whether they be internal or external, get the greatest benefit out of our efforts and help them accomplish their goals.
LogiGear has experience with all types of custom Software Development: whether it is a web app, mobile app, desktop app, or other software products. Our team of experienced IT experts and software engineers are well-versed in a wide range of tech stacks as well as development methodologies. Check out our custom Software Development services and see how we can kick-start your development project today.