A thought piece by Herculaas van Heerden, Director at Full Stack
Firstly, owning your own bespoke software is not for everyone. The higher upfront investment in bespoke platforms, the burden of managing technology specialist and/or maintaining a sustainable relationship with a technology partner along with the due diligence involved in choosing the right tech stack and partners can be daunting. If you are a business with generic problems that can be solved through off-the-shelf solution AND you are not reliant on software to create competitive advantage, enter new markets or other strategic benefit, then the advantages of off-the-shelf platforms probably outweigh the disadvantages of bespoke systems.
At Full Stack we believe that all businesses will be software businesses in some shape or form in the future.
We see the benefits of owning bespoke software as follows:
Exact Operational Fit for Purpose
Bespoke software fits your business needs 100% and caters for your exact business processes. It drives efficiency and increases productivity and reduces cost by performing complex or routine tasks exactly as the business requires. A quick analogy: the average Microsoft Word user, uses less than 10% of the functionality on offer. With bespoke systems there are no wasted functionality or wasted training time on redundant processes that provide little or no business value.
Bespoke Software Engages Your Customers
Not a subset of the aggregated view, of the middle of the road profile client offered by an off-the-shelf platform. The software engages your unique customers with their unique needs. It empowers business to deliver a hyper-tailored, deeply contextual and personalized product or service.
Bespoke Software Empowers Employees
The nature of work has changed dramatically with businesses with bespoke software platforms equipping their employees to collaborate anywhere, on a device of their choosing and accessing a common ecosystem of data and functionality in a structured, secure way. Bespoke software drives this process and serves a change agent galvanizing employee efforts around the common purpose.
Bespoke Software Enables Your Platforms and Solutions to Evolve Strategically
The software development life-cycle mirrors the development life-cycle of the business providing appropriate levels of strategic support and investment along the way. Investing in off-the-shelf solutions forces an investment in a pre-evolved solution without any bearing on where the business is coming from or more importantly where it is going to.
Bespoke Software Systems are a Change Agent
Making strategic and pivotal changes to your business is the response to a strategic imperative in a business. The reality is that these strategic imperatives are unique to your organization. Because the drivers and strategic outcomes required are the response to a unique set of triggers and variables, it requires a unique solution. Plugging an operational function with a generic off-the-shelf solution creates some operational efficiencies but does not drive the strategic change needed.
Bespoke Software Creates Sustainable Competitive Advantage
Building systems and processes that enable business to compete by providing efficiencies, functionality or access to markets that you might not have been able to without the help of bespoke software creates barriers to entry, lowers cost and drives profitability. Would be competitors would first need to match, in some cases years of structured and strategic investment in these platforms to compete on even ground. Again Amazon is a good example of a business investing and optimizing in the various parts of its value chain. Start-up competitors are extremely unlike to succeed, as the head start is simply too great and the risk to try and match the investment without the time to learn lessons and apply them during the process is simply too great.
Bespoke Software Helps You Future-Proof Your Business and Control Your Own Destiny
Generic off-the-shelf software platforms develop in isolation and the continued evolution of your business and changing strategy and needs have very little bearing on how the off-the-shelf platform develops. Over time this gap widens until the platform loses all strategic relevance and becomes a strategic impediment. Ultimately the platform becomes so removed from the strategic and operational realities of a business that it becomes operationally and strategically paralyzed.
Bespoke Software Gives You Access and Control Over Data
In the data-driven economies technology disruptions like the so called Internet of Things require bespoke software systems to help draw data from a wide variety of sources and draw insights through advanced analytics and apply these learnings to gain competitive advantage. Each business has a wide and unique set of seemingly unrelated data sources that can be harnessed and the markets are cottoning on to the fact that a real goldmine exists for business willing to harness the power of bespoke software systems to “weaponized” these data sources. Off-the-shelf solutions would not cater for the unique data-driven opportunities of each business.
The greater the number of businesses on a platform, the greater the number of data sources and the more attractive a target for attackers. CIO’s sometimes wrongly assumes that off-the-shelf solutions are safe. In a recent study by Veracode (400 000 scans over a year period) found that up to 57% of off-the-shelf systems failed to meet acceptable levels of security. C-level executives also often wrongly assume that the business risk of data-breaches can be passed on to third-party vendors, while their business are the actual ones on the line and the stakes in customer trust is unbelievably high.
Sometimes the Tech is the Business
Software platforms create access to markets and opportunities that will not exist without the bespoke technology that drives it. It would be impossible to imagine obvious examples of companies like Amazon or Uber without the bespoke systems that drive these businesses. Bespoke systems drive the evolution of businesses and how they deliver value to their customers, engage in new exciting ways, drive new business models and disrupt throughout the value chain.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution provides abundant opportunities for those who embrace it and serious risk of disruption for those that don’t.
At Full Stack we believe the choice of a bespoke software platforms that users own, that evolves along with business strategies and can be harnessed for continued competitive advantage is a strategic rather than a technology decision. The alternative to “throw your lot in with the herd” on a generic off-the-shelf platform is the strategic equivalent of burying your head in the sand and hoping your business survives and flourishes in a collective with your direct competition.