Bespoke IT can be cheaper in the long run

Buying tailor-made software can avoid the need for lengthy consultancy work

Why are so many companies willing to pay vast sums of money for IT products that require months of expensive consultancy to deliver on business needs?

It is a sad indictment on both IT purchasers and suppliers that users are willing to accept a daily IT system reboot as standard practice. No business would accept this level of service from any other supplier, from accountant to car lease company.

Arguments that bespoke software is too expensive, time-consuming, risky and unsupported in the long term are biased and untrue. Especially in solving complex business process requirements, using technology toolkits, bespoke solutions can be scoped, developed and delivered faster than their packaged alternatives. They can be designed to fit complex requirements exactly and can often be delivered at a fixed price that compares favourably to packaged solutions.

Of course, opting for a bespoke development requires a degree of trust. But existing approaches to procuring IT systems are hardly reliable, when seemingly any product can present a relevant solution to a business problem.

It is hardly surprising that many companies have taken the route of the management consultant and IT specification that takes weeks to complete and can give little insight into real business needs.

Is this really the way to invest in business success?

The perception that bespoke software development is all about reinventing the wheel is not accurate - it is about using toolkits to develop the most appropriate solution to meet a company's business needs. If that means working with a heterogeneous product that can be easily reworked and tweaked, to deliver a timely and cost-effective solution, so be it.

Equally, bespoke developments can leverage bleeding-edge technology to give a business a competitive edge. The key is to understand the risks and rewards and have confidence that an organisation can and will deliver.

There are some bespoke checklists that organisations that choose this route should follow. A fixed-price deal is a good starting point for developing trust with the supplier. Ensure that changes to functionality during the process, unless dramatic, do not affect the fixed price.

Businesses should take a balanced view of both bespoke and packaged product offerings. For different IT and business requirements, depending on complexity, innovation and uniqueness, alternative approaches will be advisable.

In order to get this balanced view and attain an understanding of when a packaged solution presents the best option, and when a bespoke offering is more appropriate, businesses need to start with a thorough scoping exercise that takes into account the organisation's infrastructure, the required technology architecture and database design, hardware and software requirements.

By using a thorough specification method, businesses will come to understand how best to approach the selection of an appropriate IT solution.

Continued acceptance of the current poor IT system performance is extraordinary. Although there is no right or wrong answer, by not doing due diligence of their own business requirements and all available IT solutions organisations will not achieve the systems benefits that they need.

Tim Considine is managing director of IT supplier First Option
This was last published in October 2004

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