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Bespoke Vs Off-the-Shelf: What And Why?

Posted 21/06/2016

Bespoke or off the shelf software? This question is one that plagues the minds of many decision makers within the business world, with every businesses requirements being at least slightly different to the next. Off the shelf software may not satisfy your exact requirements and may confuse your employees because it often has many features and functions that they will never need to use.

Bespoke software holds many benefits, and you will never find yourself with functions and features that you won’t make full use of. It is customised to meet your exact requirements, and you decide what the system does during the development process, from the very start to the final touches. The reality is that there are many disadvantages and advantages to both solutions, and it all depends on the nature of your business as to which solution is better for you.

The difference between bespoke software and off the shelf software

Off the shelf software is created by a developer with the intention of being able to be used by a huge number of different organisations, and its aim is to be a “one size fits all” solution. Bespoke software is the exact opposite of this, and the bespoke solution is developed after you have laid down all of your exact requirements, and it takes into account the position of your exact business. The system will fit your business, but it will not fit any other businesses. There are 3 areas in which these differences present themselves clearly, and these are:

The Creation and Aim: the build process for off the shelf software is vastly different from the build process of bespoke software. As mentioned above, off the shelf software is designed to be a solution to the same problem for a lot of different businesses, and as such it may not satisfy your requirements.

Bespoke software is the opposite, and is built on a framework that is designed to meet your exact requirements, and no one else’s. This will make the bespoke system easier to familiarise yourself with, and leaves the opportunity of future functionality upgrades for the system open, which will ensure the system performs well for a long period of time. With an off the shelf system the opportunity to add functionality for your exact business is essentially non-existent.

The Investment: bespoke software is developed from scratch for your particular business when you invest in it, which at times does make the initial investment slightly more costly in the short term. With a bespoke system you are getting a system that you own the intellectual rights for, a system that does exactly what your business needs it to, and you can sell on the software at a later stage to recoup or even profit on your initial investment.

Off the shelf software is generic software that already exists and it is used by many businesses. This means that it is ready for you when you invest in it, although when you invest in off the shelf software you do not actually own the intellectual rights so the system has no value to your company’s balance sheet. You also often have to pay licencing fees and user fees, making it a more expensive solution in the long term.

Updates and Added Functionality: off the shelf software often operates with a monthly charge for the system updates, and some software stops being supported completely making it obsolete very quickly. Bespoke software often also costs for updates, but you can add extra functionality, update layouts and do much more at any time, which means the system will never become obsolete or out of date.

Off-the-Shelf Software: Advantages and Disadvantages

Off-the-Shelf tools are often seen as the cheapest and quickest alternative, but are they really best for business looking beyond their immediate needs?


  • Rich in features and functionality.
  • Large pool of developers working on it.
  • Community of users providing advice.
  • Standardisation makes set-up quicker.
  • Upfront costs incurred by provider.
  • Available at point-of-sale.


  • Additional functionality is not really an option.
  • Business has to adapt to rules of the software.
  • Not all business requirements may be fulfilled.
  • Competitors could be using the same system.
  • Number of users / duration of use licencing costs.
  • Unnecessary functionality extends learning curve.

Bespoke Software: Advantages and Disadvantages

Although bespoke solutions more effectively address the individual needs of a business, these require the backing of key decision makers.


  • Tailored to your specific needs.
  • Adapts to your business rules.
  • Fulfills any/all of your requirements.
  • Provides the edge over your competitors.
  • No limitations on users or duration of use.
  • Adoption based on what you already do.
  • Scalable evolution driven by your growth.
  • Supported by the very developers who built it.


  • Requires your involvement and commitment.
  • Relies upon long-term vision.
  • Depends on your business expertise.
  • Pinpointing specific needs may take longer.
  • Rogue developers may charge you a premium.
  • Inexperience may result in a glitchy experience.

What System Do I Need?

The answer to that is not always clear, even after you know all of the information detailed here! It depends on what you are looking for within your system. Are you looking for a system that can handle your day to day admin tasks, or are you looking for a system that can integrate your entire business in one centralised location? If you are looking for a system that is a little more capable and suited to your exact business then a bespoke system is the best choice for you. Bespoke systems offer truly tangible long term business benefits, efficiency improvements and give you a long term advantage over your competition.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how a bespoke system can benefit your business, feel free to get in touch with us to get the details of how it can assist your exact business. We have over 10 years’ experience working within the sector, and we have built hundreds of bespoke systems for many happy clients in the past.