When I started working at a software development company in Indianapolis, I was really thankful that my coworkers were willing to sit down and explain custom software to me. And explain it again when I got confused.

It’s a confusing subject—partially because people who know about custom software assume everyone else does, too.

But unless you have your head buried in computer code all day, it’s quite possible (and normal) that you wouldn’t have much knowledge about custom software at all. Or know what it can do for you.

It’s not as complicated as you’d think.

What is Custom Software?

What is custom software? It is a computer program specifically developed for a unique purpose.

It’s a tool that can be tailored to fit a certain need, a solution that fits your individual problem.

What isn’t Custom Software?

Sometimes the best definition is in an opposite. So what is custom software not? Custom software is not a mass-marketed, off-the-shelf, packaged program.

In essence, off-the-shelf software is a pre-drilled hole—a predetermined solution that problems have to fit into. You might be able to alter the hole a little bit, but it’s not created specifically with the problem in mind.

Custom software, on the other hand, is about drilling the right hole for the hardware—it considers the problem first and creates a solution to fit.

Why Would I Want Custom Software?

What is the real benefit of custom software? Why not just buy a pre-packaged, off-the-shelf option?

It follows your process

You’ve created your business processes for a reason. You know they work, and they’re what make your business unique. Because custom software is designed to be a solution that fits a certain need, you’re able to tailor it to your individual business process.

This way, your software obeys you, not the other way around. You have the flexibility to create a program that augments and enhances what you’re already doing, instead of trying to change your process to fit inside a pre-made box.

It gives you a competitive advantage

This almost goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. If you conform your business process to fit the mass-produced software, you could lose your competitive advantage.

Think about it. If you use the same software (and therefore the same process) as your competitors in the marketspace, what’s left to make you unique? Your logo? (It’s nice, by the way, but not quite enough to get you that extra market share.)

But if you get custom software—software that enhances your unique business processes—you have the advantage. You can set yourself apart in your space because you’re not doing what everyone else is doing. You’re doing it different and better.


It’s a long-term investment

Custom software can cost more up front than you would pay for an off-the-shelf option (sometimes, not always). But even if mass-market software has a cheaper price tag initially, watch for hidden fees.

From installation, configuration, and licensing all the way to data migration, customization, and training, there are plenty of costs associated with off-the-shelf software that don’t show up in the initial price.

Even if custom software costs you more in the beginning, your savings over time could balance out the cost faster than you think. (Especially when you factor in your increased competitive advantage and process improvement!)

If you need more convincing, check out this LinkedIn article.

How is Custom Software Built?

There are a couple options here.

The first option is completely from scratch. In this case, the developers start from nothing and create your system. This option is more expensive, predictably, since it’s built completely from the ground up.

The second option is for the company building your software to use some pre-built “pieces” to create your software.

This option is less expensive since the functionality has already been created—you don’t have to pay for it to be built from the beginning (there may be a licensing fee involved, which would be included in your contract).

But don’t pre-built elements defeat the purpose of custom software?

They actually do not, and here’s why: pre-built pieces and a pre-built system are very different things.

If you buy a pre-built system, there’s no reconfiguring without a lot of time, effort, and cost (plus what you already paid for the system).

With pre-built pieces in custom software, you have more of a LEGO® model. Think of those pre-built pieces of software (the ability to put new users in the system, for example) as individual LEGO® blocks.

They’re all different shapes and sizes and colors. You can put them together to build a car, a castle, or catapult, or anything else you can think of. You’re not limited by the brick.

But think of having to melt plastic, pour it into molds, and wait for it to harden before you ever start building your car or castle. That’s the difference between using pre-built software pieces and building from scratch.

Your software is still built to your specifications for your unique business needs. The only difference is that some of those elements that software companies use over and over are already built so you don’t have to pay for them to be re-created again.

Custom software is still custom with some pre-built pieces because it is built to conform to your business model instead of the off-the-shelf mentality that your business model should conform to the software.

What is custom software? It’s the alternative to trying to cram your business into a one-size-fits-all model that just doesn’t fit. It’s your ticket to running your business the way you want to, and standing out in the marketplace as a unique and effective company.

Want to know more about the price of custom software? Check out our blog, How Much Should My Custom Software Cost?

Meet the Author

Kristin Schwartz has a varied background that includes stints in government and the nonprofit sector. But she’s an information junky, so she’s loving immersing herself in the world of technology. No challenge is too great – give Kristin any topic, and she’ll be determined to research it thoroughly, understand it, and write about it in a way that anyone can understand.