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In 2019, should you be writing your own software … or even getting someone else to write custom software for you ?

This article deals with the business of being a business and having custom software.

Let me start by saying that if I was trying to persuade you that you should not be making use of custom electricity, or generating your own electricity, this would be a very short article !

My view is that you should NOT be writing (or even continuing to have) your own custom software these days – I aim to persuade you of this argument, in this article.

There are some exceptions to this so let’s get those out of the way to start with.

If you are a software house, and your business is writing software, then clearly you do need to have custom software; you can stop reading !

If you are a business whose main (or even only) product is software based, then you are very likely to need your own custom software. This would apply to a business that sold products via an online channel only – in this case, the business is a retail one, and not a software house, as such, but the software underlying the business is so integral to the business that the business would be negligent in not having a very close interest in the software, and – probably – having some custom software. In this case, the software to support the business is a key asset of the business.

Outside of these exceptions, as a business owner, I would need a lot of convincing that my business required custom software.

What do I mean by Custom Software

In days gone by (5+ years ago !) it was common for all sorts of businesses to have applications which had been created specifically for them – either by external software companies, or by internal teams who created software applications. Very often these applications covered key business functions like accounting, or human resources management, or similar.

So this is what I mean by custom software – software which has been written/created specifically for this particular business.

Custom software can get into a business in all sorts of places – I will put an article on how custom software gets into the business on my road map.

Reasons Why

So why do I advocate NOT having custom software as part of your business ?

To me there are two key reasons :

  • If you are going to write software, you should write it well – it should be high quality. This involves you in a set of processes and procedures which take time to set up, and which require commitment (investment) from all parts of the business to get right. Creating / producing poor quality software is a big mistake, and one which is increasingly visible to your customers. I believe that creating poor quality software is more expensive (in the long run) than creating high quality software – as well as creating a real reputational problem.
  • The people that you need to have available to you to write good quality software are expensive resources. Doing it properly takes time, effort, cost and knowledge – do you want to / need to be investing in that knowledge ?

Another article that I have tackles the aspects of creating software which si high quality and some of the processes and procedures you need to have in place.

Some Exceptions

You may want a closer control on your own website, and you may need to carry out some customisation here. For these exceptions – which I would expect you would want to see a business case for – you will need to keep a tight control on customisation, as well as on the software.

You may have some aspect of your business which is unique, and which does rely on / require a software system to control it, or to manage it, which cannot be procured through the open market. In this case, you have no choice but to go with setting up the systems and procedures which will allow you to create solid, high quality software.

So What to do Instead ?

Having gone into great detail about what is bad and why it is bad, you are very likely to be sitting there thinking that this is all very well, but what then do I use for my accounting, for my HR, for my management ?

The answer is that I advocate using applications which exist out there on the open market. There are a number of great systems available to all businesses, which offer functionality and solutions far in excess of what you could create and support on your own.

Take a look at my article on these options for some suggestions.

Conclusion

Taking all of the discussion in this article into account, I believe that for most small to medium sized businesses in 2019, it is NOT sensible to write or to maintain custom software. I believe that a key activity of any business with custom software is to fully understand what business purpose is served by the software, and to seek other solutions.

Where it is decided that some amount of custom software is needed, then I would expect a solid business case to support this decision, which would detail any benefit to the business, as well as the costs required to develop – and maintain – this customisation.

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