Lunch & Technology: A Custom Software vs Off the Shelf Solutions Comparison

In today’s digital world, there are 1000s of products, applications, and software solutions to solve our business needs. Since there are so many off the shelf solutions it’s easy to get stuck in the spiderweb of building your business dependent and on the whim of these products. Off the shelf solutions, or SaaS, are very helpful, however, as the name states, it’s ‘off the shelf’, meaning it was built to appeal to the masses and work for most people.

The business leader of XYZ Inc is determining which direction she wants to take her company, whether to develop custom software or purchase multiple off the shelf solution for her business. So, she schedules two lunch meetings with her top two business analysts and asked them to pick the restaurant. The first analyst suggests eating at his favorite restaurant Le’ Buffet. This was her dining experience:

The Positives:

  • Does the buffet appeal to the masses? Yes.
  • Will it do the job of filling you up? Yes, but I don’t feel great
  • Is a meal expensive? Not necessarily, $11.55

The Negatives:

  • Did the buffet leave you feeling physically good?  No, it’s a buffet.
  • Did you try every entree & side they offer? No, but I still paid for it.
  • Was the buffet clean and organized in an easy way to load up the perfect plate? No, the items I want are in two different sides of the restaurant’s buffet.
  • Was the quality good? It’s not bad but not great, it’s a buffet
  • Was there food from other serving trays in the food you wanted? Yes.
  • Did the dish you always get have less area on the buffet due to the adding of additional entrees and sides requested by other patrons or is no longer the main focus? Yes
  • Does eating at the buffet daily lead you to a long term better life? No.  

After lunch and a good discussion on off the shelf software, she gets back to the office and feeling tired and lazy from all the fried and processed food. She continued to work but, knew she wasn’t efficient and had work rolled over onto the next day.

The next morning she isn’t able to catch up from yesterday and goes to get ready to head out to lunch with your other analyst. He suggests you go to his favorite restaurant “EarthFood 4U” a sit-down restaurant where every item is made fresh to order. Her meal goes something like this:

The Positives:

  • Did the restaurant leave you feeling physically good?  Yes, the food left me full and  full of energy
  • Was the quality of food good? Yes, it was made for me fresh!
  • Did you pay for more than you ate? No, I only paid for what I ordered.
  • Was the dish presented in an appealing manner? Yes, the dish was visually appealing
  • Was there food from other meals on your plate? No, everything was made fresh
  • Was the dish you always get on the menu still? Yes, the restaurant only has its few main dishes and that it cooks
  • Does eating at the EarthFood 4U daily lead you to a long term better life? Yes!

The Negatives:

  • Did the restaurant appeal to the masses? No. The restaurant appealed to its exact target: health conscious individuals
  • Was the meal expensive? No, but more than the buffet $18.75

With another lunch in the books, the business owner gets back to their office feeling energized after a great meal and another insightful conversation with an analyst. She gets back to work and even catches up on all the other work she had left over from yesterday! At the end of the day on the way out the door, as she reflects on her lunches from the past two days, a light-bulb goes off in her head. An off the shelf software is quite similar to a buffet and custom software is like a healthy made when ordered restaurant.  

Off the shelf Software (Le’ Buffet)

The Positives:

  • Does Off-the-Shelf Software appeal to the masses? Yes.
  • Does it do the job you need it to? Yes, but not in an efficient manner
  • Is the software expensive? Not necessarily. Low Upfront CapEx, Long Term High OpEx.

The Negatives

  • Did you finish your job feeling satisfied? No, because it’s made for all not for me or my business needs.
  • Did you use every feature & tool in the Software? No, but still I paid for it
  • Was the Software Designed in a clean and user-friendly way? No, not to me and my business, we like the feel of Microsoft Office applications, and the off the shelf solution had no similarities to the usability
  • Is the quality good? It’s not bad but it’s not great as it’s for the masses and not my business
  • Is there data from other businesses mixed into your data? Hopefully no, but often time due to multi-tenant systems, database errors happen and information gets cross contaminated.
  • Did the feature that originally made you buy the software get pushed to the side, due to other patrons needing new features? Yes.
  • Does an off the shelf software add the lifetime value of your business? No, your entire business is dependent upon this software, if that business closes your business is out of luck and just lost all the processes and infrastructure it previously had.

VS

Custom Software (EarthFood 4U restaurant)

The Positives:

  • Did the software leave you feeling satisfied? Yes, it does exactly what we need it to do, and nothing more
  • Is the quality of a custom solution good? Yes, as long as it’s planned accordingly
  • Did you pay for software features that you do not need? No, you only pay for what you need.
  • Was the software developed in an appealing manner for a user? Yes, custom software is developed for your business needs, meaning if the business is dependent upon a common design, we can make the solution match that look.
  • Is there data from other software in your program? No, your business is the only one who has this solution! Meaning your data will never be contaminated.
  • Is the main feature of your app still the main feature? Yes, and it will remain the main feature until you decided to change the program.
  • Does using a software solution made specifically for you make your more efficient? Yes!


The Negatives:

  • You (sometimes) can’t productize your custom software as a SaaS, due to the fact it’s so customized to your business needs
  • Is Custom Software Expensive? No, it does have a higher upfront CapEx but your OpEx will be less over time.

These similarities are a great depiction of the difference between off the shelf solutions vs a Custom software. One is great for the masses and is cheaper up front but the other is made directly for you & adds value to your business. Just like the lunches, after the buffet, only some work was able to be completed because the owner was tired from eating too much of an unhealthy lunch. Likewise, with an off the shelf solution, the gets the job was done, but at a slower rate, meaning fewer jobs are done over a set amount of time. Whereas the healthy lunch, although it is a few dollars more expensive, left the owner full of energy. Just as a Custom Software, the user is able to complete more tasks in the day due to it being built specifically for the business’ needs! So, If you were the business owner, which would you choose? An off the shelf Solution, or a Custom Software? 

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Jason Senter
Jason Senter
Executive Director of Sales & Product Management

After finding my footing in the world of technology, I joined Grata Software. I focus on identifying opportunities within your business where technology or processes are lacking, and how we can improve them. When I'm not playing sports or in the kitchen cooking, you can find me here at Grata Software, as the Head of Sales and Product Manager.