The eternal IT dilemma: commercial software product or not?

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It’s the burden of all enterprises at one point or another; we often meet with business prospects which have very precise business needs and requirements, and that are confronted with multiple options as much in terms of technology as finance, and this story unfolds itself on a landscape of functionalities and satisfaction.  Let’s put things out just the way they are: contrary tocommercial software product, custom-made development frightens a lot of people, because commercial software product is concrete to start with which is both more appealing and securing for a decision-maker.  But when you take a closer look at it, you’ll see that reality is not that simple.

We will try in this post, and as much as we can, to identify the pros and cons of both IT options: custom-made software development or commercial software product.

Commercial software product


  • Very short implementation cycle
  • Less risky for the decision-maker since the software product  is concrete
  • Immediate productivity gains
  • Low initial buying cost
  • Software product price is known and set once and for all (or almost…)



  • No software product  answers 100% of clients’ needs
  • Annual license fees… forever
  • Modification cost very often under-estimated
  • Difficult choice: from which % of needs answered does a software product get interesting?   50%, 60% or 75%?
  • Commercial software product technology is almost always outdated, event at purchase
  • The IT environment must adapt to the product; this brings added pressure to the IT department to support this new technology in the environment (Oracle vs SQL, .Net vs Java, Windows vs Linux, etc.)
  • Organisational processes must adapt to the product, not the other way around (in terms de security, for example)
  • Organizations must adapt to the product; Web vs Windows, etc.
  • Commercial software product updates can be very tricky and treacherous considering home-made developments done upon implementation and over time
  • Foreign commercial software product contract cost can be much costly than originally planned
  • A license is never more than a usage right, it’ll never turn into a proprietary right


Custom-made Software Development


  • Possibility of step-by-step implementation
  • Possibility of negotiating the intellectual property
  • Custom-made Software Development meets all business requirements; no missing functionalities and no extra not-required functionalities complexifying the product and its usage
  • Impact of Custom-made Software product on the enterprise very often come along with a major competitive advantage that only the organization has because of the software
  • Supplier choice will go according to the organization’s technology environment requirements or constraints
  • Enabling the organization to force / dictate its business rules in compliance with its security requirements
  • Updates and maintenance more easily controlled
  • Integrating the most recent technologies
  • Custom-made Software product integrates organizational processes and not the other way around
  • Flexibility of deliverables à Web, Windows, Mobile…



  • Long implementation cycle
  • Higher initial development cost
  • Mid and long-term productivity gains
  • Higher risk for the organization if the selected firm
  • Requirements must be very well described and detailed; otherwise, the project can seriously go off road
  • Supplier choice is crucial and directly correlated with the client’s satisfaction and the deliverables’ level of adequacy is the client’s responsibility as well
    • Durability of the selected firm
    • Supplier’s level of experience in the light of requirements.  Does he have true experience into this specific type of software
    • Agile Methodology, good; Agile-SCRUM, even better and if the supplier is CMMI certified; well then, it’s excellent since this is the US Army software development ISO standard



If a commercial software product « TRUELY » meets 70% of your business requirements or more and it doesn’t put much pressure on your IT environment and business processes; well, you should seriously consider it.

If a Custom-made Software Developer proposes a platform already containing 50% of required functionalities with experience in your field of activities; then you should consider this proposal even more seriously!


In any case, integrating a new technology or application is always a perilous adventure which must be leaded by a skilled captain; otherwise, it could really turn catastrophic… and God knows, we have all heard a few such horrific software stories here in Québec…

Safe… adventure,

Denis et Michel

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