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Custom Software Vs. Off-the-Shelf: Which Is Best?

Choosing between custom software development and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) offerings can be challenging. Here's some help.
Custom Software
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Coding is consistently getting simpler. Gone are the days when developers struggled with hundreds or thousands of lines of code. Meanwhile, software can make almost every business process more efficient and help almost any enterprise scale. However, many start-ups find themselves confused when choosing between a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product or custom software development. I write this article to add a little light on what each option brings to the table. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Custom Software Vs. Off-the-Shelf Solutions: Factors to Consider

When choosing between custom and COTS software solutions, the first question to answer is which best fits your company’s requirements. While custom software adjusts to the business, ready-made solutions make the business adjust. Functionality, execution, maintenance and support, upgrades, and cost efficiency are some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration.

1. Functionality

COTS offerings are ready-made applications that sometimes require little effort in terms of integration and deployment. However, many COTS solutions are designed to fulfill broad ranges of enterprise requirements. These alternatives may have multiple features your enterprise doesn’t need.

Custom software development solutions, on the other hand, are designed in complete alignment with your specific business requirements. You pay only for the features and functionalities that you will be using.

2. Execution

It is often easier to ensure that custom solutions match your enterprise’s standards and requirements for user experience, functionality, and other characteristics. The custom choice is also likely to be built using the most up-to-date technologies. In comparison, COTS solutions may be difficult or impossible to align closely with all of your business requirements. And although COTS developers use modern technologies, there are numerous obsolete or nearly obsolete COTS solutions on the market.

3. Support and Maintenance

COTS providers typically don’t offer support if you happen to be utilizing an older version of their product. This means that you might need to purchase a massive software update that might see you overpaying for support administrations. With an off-the-shelf solution, you can gain from case studies and maintain a strategic distance from numerous issues that arise. However, custom solutions can still make more sense in the long run. In addition to hyper-alignment, the majority of custom software development companies offer free support for their customers for a considerable period of time. Some even have lifetime support and maintenance policies.

4. Time Expenses

Some decision makers mistakenly believe a COTS solution can simply be purchased, installed, and immediately put to work. However, more often than not, installation and configuration of COTS solutions can take considerable time. And since a COTS solution isn’t built to be aligned with your unique business’ necessities, its deployment doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate return on investment (ROI).

Since custom software is built from scratch, development can take two to three months or longer. But the eventual product will likely be faster and easier to deploy and use.

5. Cost efficiency

COTS software might seem less expensive when compared to a custom solution, yet its maintenance may cost you as much as the custom alternative over the long haul. Also, many COTS offerings have month-to-month subscription of support costs. These can be significant.

With a custom solution, an expert group will configure, test, construct, and execute your application, which is why your company has to expend a larger initial investment. Custom software is a costly item, yet it is bound to last longer and offer you better ROI in terms of overall cost efficiency and productivity.

Instances of Custom Software and COTS Offerings

Today the world we live in is flooded with both COTS and custom software examples. You are probably using one or more COTS solutions right now. It is also possible that the CRM website you use at work was custom-built for your enterprise. Here are a few common examples of both custom and COTS software solutions.

Custom Software

Many businesspeople believe competitive advantage requires unique, custom technologies. For instance, all content management system (CMS) frameworks, customer relationship management (CRM) services, internet business software solutions, or business process automation or mechanization frameworks are customized.

Here are a few more examples of custom software.

Streaming services

These days we stream audio and video on devices that range from PCs to smartphones, and we expect to do so anywhere, anytime. Custom software development is the only way to deliver on the promise of streaming reliably and securely.

Voice recognition

Voice recognition software has rapidly become widely used. While consumers use COTS voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana. However, enterprises, especially those that require high security, prefer to use custom voice recognition software.

Banking services

The banking, financial services, and insurance (BFSI) industry sector relies almost entirely on custom software development solutions for tasks that demand precision and security, such as asset management and transaction tracking.


The pandemic has accelerated explosive growth and custom software development in the delivery sector. Almost every delivery service provider offers customers mobile applications integrated with tracking software. These tools encourage customers to explore caf├ęs or delivery locations and track their deliveries on a map. Watching that little bike or vehicle icon working its way to you is quite a lot of fun.

Planning tools

Immense daily inflows of data challenge leaders at almost every modern company. This is why many enterprises deploy custom software for planning gatherings, coordinating meetings, and handling documentation. Such tools can be particularly valuable for developing businesses.

Off-the-Shelf Software

Almost everyone uses multiple mainstream COTS offerings every day, for tasks ranging from document creation to graphic design. Some popular examples of COTS include the following.

  • Microsoft Office
  • Oracle
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Norton Antivirus
  • Microsoft Windows 10
  • SAP
  • TurboTax


The software industry is overflowing with multiple products being developed almost every day, be it COTS or custom software. The demand for hyper-aligned business technology assets has powered the move towards custom software development. While COTS solutions have their own value proposition of dependability and robust builds, custom software development can offer greater long-term cost efficiencies and closer alignment to your business requirements.

I recommend choosing a COTS solution only when you do not have the time or budget to have a custom solution built. Otherwise, I strongly recommend custom software solutions.

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