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How to develop custom software to address your company's needs

Mike Wilson
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Readymade, packaged applications have their place in business IT, but sometimes only custom-built software can maximise the potential of what technology can do for your organisation.

Custom software means:

  • Taking advantage of skills and technology to develop solutions that are solely applicable to your unique business objectives, processes and people.
  • Being able to address future as well as current needs as part of a continual technology journey.
  • Zero waste on functions and features you aren’t really interested in or that don’t serve the goal of transforming your business.
  • Opting out of the costs and delays associated with customising off-the-shelf applications to purchase to fit your needs
  • No more lining the pockets of ISVs to market and develop the same widely-available software to all your competitors.

The key to getting the right software for your unique goals is how well the functional set and its implementation integrates with your business processes and user community. But before that, it all begins with identifying a suitable software development partner to undertake the work, arranging suitable legal protections for yourself, and then scoping the project properly.

Picking a software development company

Custom software is your guarantee that software development brain cells and the latest technology can be applied to transform your business, rather than anyone else’s. Research a few likely candidates and quiz your trusted contacts for referrals. Don’t be afraid to apply some harsh scrutiny, and that should absolutely include sticking your nose into the financial stability of any potential software developer. For them to suddenly go bust halfway through your project is a risk you don’t want to run. Finally, meet them face-to-face and see how you get along. You aren’t really buying technology at the end of the day, you are ‘buying into’ people. It will be a close, occasionally intense, working relationship so you need to satisfy yourself that it will work before you commit.

Putting the right contracts in order

The last thing you need is a legal dispute with your software developer. It is rare, but it does happen, typically when organisations fail to set the ground rules on ownership of intellectual property (IP). Reputable software development companies will be geared up to allay these concerns with appropriate legal protections, but it’s still wise to get these reviewed independently so that they meet your precise requirements and expectations.

Getting serious about compliance

From PCI DSS to EU GDPR, your custom software project will have to swallow its own ladle or two of regulatory compliance alphabet soup for data protection and governance. Software development companies will have varying levels of expertise with the different standards, so take responsibility to understand precisely what your obligations are and how this affects your software.

Identifying and inviting users

The best custom software projects understand who the users are from the outset. It sounds very simple, but you would be surprised how many times an organisation thinks that it ‘knows best’, and relies on assumptions about employees and customers rather than being prepared to engage them. In our experience, there are always huge opportunities and great ideas for features and processes hidden in the insights you learn when you get real users involved in custom software projects.

Carrying out a robust project scoping exercise

The project scoping exercise is the gateway to your custom software project. One of the essential elements for success is a sound appreciation of users, as outlined above. Another is a rudimentary map of your current and desired business processes. These needn’t be complicated, and you will end up covering it all as part of the scoping exercise, but you should think about it in advance to save time in the long run. Finally - and most crucially - you need to enter this exercise with a laser-like focus on your business objectives. As with many of the other pointers in this blog, you can rely on a good software development company to guide you along the project scoping exercise, drilling into considerably more detail where it’s necessary. Don’t be put off by the prospect of getting bogged down in confusing technobabble. If that happens, you’ve chosen the wrong partner. Just be prepared to talk about your business, its plans and aspirations - you’ll never have to become a software expert to commission a software project.

Developing custom software is an excellent way to address your own company needs, maximise efficiency of resources and achieve competitive advantage. There are numerous advantages to this approach compared to the alternative of ‘making do’ with generic off-the-shelf software packages.

The approach is simpler that you think, especially if you pay heed to the steps outlined above and stay focused on demanding what your organisation needs in order to be successful.

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Topics: Software Development

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