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Four Reasons to Design a Custom Web App

By on Jun 13, 2005 in Mobile, Web Applications

During the course of designing and building a website, you’ll probably have a few opportunities to choose between pre-built software (often an SaaS solution) and building something custom. Pre-built software is supposedly cheaper, faster, and better than a custom web app.

But this is frequently not the case!

#1. A custom web app meets your needs perfectly.

This seems obvious, but it’s worth pointing out because pre-built software never meets your needs perfectly. It just can’t. Every organization, no matter how common, has unique needs, and the software won’t meet them correctly.

This may or may not be a big deal, but it’s hard to underestimate the value from something that does exactly what you want, how you want it done.

#2. It’s easier to use because it doesn’t have a bunch of extra features and unneeded flexibility getting in your way.

On the other hand, every pre-designed software will be flexible to meet a large number of anticipated needs. This inevitably leads to extra “cruft” – extra features, buttons, fields, code. Extra things you don’t need that are distracting, confusing, or just slow things down.

#3. It’s designed around your business processes, instead of forcing you to change your business process to match the software.

This is a close corollary to reason #1. Pre-designed software is designed to accommodate a specific workflow. If this is your specific workflow, great. But it rarely is, and it means that you’ll have to change the way your company does things in order to use the software, or introduce other work-arounds to accommodate the software.

Needless to say, custom-built software doesn’t have this problem because it’s designed around your workflow, not the other way around.

#4. It’s often just as cost-effective as off-the-shelf software because it doesn’t need further configuration.

This all culminates in the final reason.

After you’ve customized the software, changed the settings, removed unused UI, and updated your business processes to match the application, the overall cost often approaches, or even exceeds the cost of a custom design, and you don’t even get something that perfectly meets your needs.

So, when should you use custom software?

I’m not trying to say that you should always design custom software – there are many situations when off-the-shelf systems are more appropriate.

Here’s a quick evaluation of whether it’s appropriate to consider a custom solution to solve a task:

  • Is the task common but complex? Commonly-encountered complex situations include e-commerce / fulfillment solutions, CRMs, etc. These situations have many hidden details, and there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, particularly when it’s an especially complex wheel, and you should use a pre-built solution.
  • Is the task common and simple? Even the most common tasks have slight variations per company. If it’s not particularly complex, a custom-designed solution will match your business process more closely.
  • Do you have a particularly unique or rare requirement? If you do, this is a good time to consider a custom-built solution. There might be pre-designed solutions out there, but they may be considerably more expensive than less feature-rich solutions.
  • Is this a new business process, or are you trying to optimize an existing process? If you’re just starting something new, a pre-designed solution is probably appropriate. Since you don’t have any business processes, you don’t have anything to change.

I hope these have been helpful. Pre-designed solutions are great and often appropriate, but it’s not always an open-and-shut case, and sometimes a custom-designed application can get you exactly what you want for the same price as something that’s not exactly what you want.

Hey! This wasn't written by a shadow of jaguars! It was written by , who does awesome work at Loud Dog, a digital branding firm in San Francisco that helps businesses express themselves authentically via identities, websites, and marketing collateral.

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