Custom Software vs. Packaged Software: What to Choose and Why

Topics: Business tools, business advice, Custom Software, Packaged Software

Written by Quentin Russell

Software as a service is a massive industry. Trying to find the right software solution for your company can be overwhelming. There are a ton of factors that you need to keep in mind during the selection process. The biggest one is deciding whether you should use custom software or something off the shelf. Each option has its strengths and weakness. You need to weigh each of those carefully against your business's needs. We know that this isn't an easy decision as your choice is going to affect your company for the next several years. That's why you need to take an in-depth look at each custom and packaged software to see which would work best for your company.


Advantages of Using Packaged Software

There are several reasons that your company may want to use off-the-shelf software. Here are the primary reasons that companies tend to go with packaged solutions.


Quick Deployment

One of the major selling points of packaged software is that it is faster to purchase, install, and use. Depending on your knowledge and tech savvy, you can have a piece of packaged software up and running by the end of the day.

Low Initial Costs

For the most part, packaged software tends to be cheaper than a custom counterpart. This is due to the software being developed for the mass market. As it's meant for more people, the overall cost for development is spread over many users.

User Reviews

Unless you're buying a piece of packaged software on launch day, there should be user reviews of the product. You can check review sites and online forums to see how people like the software and whether it would work for you.

Try Before You Buy

Unlike most custom solutions, you can usually try a free trial of a packaged solution. This means you can get a hands-on test of the product you're looking at. This makes it easy to test the software to see if it's what you're looking for.

Community Support

Just like you can find user reviews before dying, if you have issues with the software you generally have access to community forums. You can see if other people have similar problems and quickly find out what they did to resolve them.

Disadvantages of Using Packaged Software

Where there are strengths there are also weaknesses. Let's take a look at some of the reasons you may not want to use off-the-shelf software.


Higher Prices Later

While a packaged solution may be cheaper up front, it may end up costing you over time. This includes monthly costs, persistent fees, purchasing additional features, and the opportunity cost of not being able perform certain actions that you could with custom software.

Lack of Control

You generally don't have any control over the software. You don't own the source code, nor do you have any say in how it's built. Updates and changes may be dropped on you that cause the software to no longer suit your needs.

No Flexibility

You know exactly what you're getting with packaged software, and nothing else. You don't have a line to the developer to add features to the software that can benefit you. Instead, you may find that you must pay extra to get that feature.

Lacking Features

Off-the-shelf software is designed to work for as many people as possible. Due to this, it may not have all of the functionality you need out of it. If it doesn't have the features you need, you may find yourself using multiple solutions in tandem to get all of the features you need.

Lack of Support

Not all packaged software comes with support. Of the software that comes with support, not all of that support is quality. You may find yourself running into lingering issues due to not having access to support and training that can resolve them.

Advantages of Using Custom Software

Now that we've gone over the pros and cons of using packaged software, let's look at why you might want to use custom software.


Built for You

The thing about custom software is that's built to meet your needs. It is designed specifically to solve any issues you may be having. You won't run into the issue of not having a feature that matches your unique situation.


One of the major draws of a custom solution is that there are no wasted features. With a custom solution, you don't have to pay for any features you're not using. Instead, you're only paying for what you're using.


When your business grows, your tools need to grow with them. A packaged solution that works now may not later. When you purchase a custom solution, you can make sure that it's built to support and match the growth of your company.

Tool Integration

While a packaged solution may work, it probably doesn't integrate well with your other tools. You can have your custom software designed to integrate your other tools so you can use everything from one platform.

Ongoing Support

With custom software comes specialized support. Custom software generally comes with more in-depth training and longer, more personalized support that can help your company resolve issues with the software as they come up.

Disadvantages of Using Custom Software

Just as there are advantages to using custom software, there are also disadvantages you need to keep in mind.


Higher Up-Front Costs

With custom software, the cost of development list solely on you. You're not only paying for the solution, but you're also paying for the time spent developing it. This can stack up and lead to spending a larger amount initially.

Longer Implementation

With packaged software, implementation can be done in under a day. Custom solutions require time to develop and deploy. Not only that, but they can also take more time to train your whole team how to use them.

No Try Before You Buy

For the most part, you won't be able to see how your custom software will work until after it's begun development. Some companies offer demos, but they are usually general builds that don't represent the final product.

Not Built on Your Time

Unless you're building it in-house, your custom software is going to be developed on another company's time. This means that any issues they run into can cause development to be delayed which can negatively impact you.

Fewer Reviews

Custom software often has less reviews than packaged software. This means it can be difficult to determine whether a piece of custom software will work for you. While you can check a company's reputation, it might not be indicative of the software's ability to meet your needs.

Custom vs. Packaged - Which to Choose?

So that brings us to our main question, which option should you choose? Before you make that decision, there are several questions that you need to ask yourself.

Can You Integrate It With Your Other Tools?

What tools are you using? You need to keep this in consideration when shopping around for a software solution. Ideally, your software should be table to integrate these other tools. With how interconnected everything has become; you can't afford to be using tools that don't talk to one another. You need a software that can quickly pull information from your different tools for ease of use.

What Are Your Needs?

What problem are you trying to solve? Why are you looking for a software solution? Is this a common need in your industry or one that's specific to you? These are all things you need to consider when choosing a solution. If your needs are unique to you, a packaged solution might not offer the features you need. By using custom software, you can have custom workflows and features built for you that accommodate your needs.

What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

Are you looking for a general piece of software or are you looking for something to solve a specific problem? If you're trying to solve a problem, is it common or unique? A common problem can easily be solved with packaged software, but a unique problem probably won't. You can always be sure that a piece of custom software will be able to solve any problem you're having. Keep this in mind when shopping around for software.

What Features Will You Use?

This is something you need to consider more when it comes to packaged software. Out of the features it offers you, which ones will you use? You may find that off-the-shelf software might either have too many features or not enough features. If the former is true you may end up paying for too much. If the latter is true than you need to consider using a custom solution. Either way, with a custom solution you can be sure you're only using the features you pay for.

Will it Scale With Your Business?

Adopting a new piece of software isn't a small task. Implementation and user training/adoption can take serious time and effort. This is fine if you're only doing every 3-5 years, but if you're having to switch to new software every year that's another issue. You need to consider your business's size and growth. Is the software considering going to be able to scale with you? You need to make sure that you'll be able to use the software for several years.

Custom vs. Packaged - Our Experience

With over 17 years of experience working to build custom productivity solutions for companies all over the globe, we know a thing or two about software development. During that time, we've had a lot of clients come to us with tales of off-the-shelf solutions that just don't do enough. Whether that's because it's not flexible enough, it doesn't integrate with their other tools, or it just doesn't do what was advertised. A common story we've found is that the client had a solution that worked great at first, but they had outgrown it and needed something more suited for their needs.

Custom vs. Packaged - The Final Verdict

So, at the end of the day, which option should you go with? After laying it all out on paper, custom software will usually be better than packaged. While the up-front financial and time investment may be higher, a custom software will be more cost-effective over time. Really, you should only be using off-the-shelf software when you're getting started.

Newer and smaller companies don't quite know what they need yet. Instead, they need a solution that doesn't require a lot of time or money to get going. However, as you grow, you're going to run into the issues with packaged software that we described above. You may find that you're not using certain features or that the software can't do everything you need it to. Once you reach this point, it's time for your company to start looking into getting a more customized solution.

Custom software is built for you. It matches your needs and is designed to do exactly what you need it to. You can't get that out of a packaged solution. In addition, depending on your contract, you'll have access to a more extensive amount of support than you'd get with an off-the-shelf system. Your company needs software that meets your needs and will grow with you. In fact, relying on a packaged solution as you grow may have a negative impact on your business's development.


Your company is unique, which is why it needs unique software to match its needs. Don't use off-the-shelf software unless you absolutely have to. Instead, make the investment and get started using custom software that can help you be more productive in the short term and grow in the long term.

If you have any questions about custom software, or you're interested in working with Dock 365 to build custom SharePoint solutions for your company, fill out the form to the right to schedule a demo and get started today.

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