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There’s Not Always an App for That: When Your Own Tech Is the Answer

We’ve all become familiar with the phrase “there’s an app for that.” Originally a mentality engrained within consumers, the proliferation of cloud-based SaaS tools has ushered in a seemingly endless set of business-focused apps. Whether it’s something to help automate billing processes, help track reservations, or manage repetitive tasks, these out-of-the-box options are all very convenient…until they’re not.

While there are a ton of SaaS options out there, there’s no guarantee that these existing technologies will equip your team with long-term solutions that fit your business needs.

So how do you know if the tools you’re subscribed to are enough? When is it time to venture into the world of custom software application development?

WHAT IS CUSTOM SOFTWARE AND WHY SHOULD I BE THINKING ABOUT IT?
Custom software is just that – software made for you and your specific business needs, constraints, and goals.

While that sounds like the perfect solution given that it’s tailored to you, it’s not necessarily always the right way to go. Things like cost, time, and training should be considered when making a potential jump to a new business software of any kind.

SO HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I NEED CUSTOM SOFTWARE DEVELOPED FOR MY BUSINESS?
Since each business is completely unique, there’s no “one size fits all” approach when digging into and reviewing your existing tech stack. That said, these are some of the main things we always ask our clients and potential clients to consider about their existing tools when custom small business software is on the horizon.

  • Reflect on your goals
    First, when determining whether your current software is adequate or not, you’ll need to reflect on your business goal and how it is achieved today, as well as how you’d like to achieve it in the future.
  • For example, if your business need is pretty straightforward, such as that of a restaurant that wants to take reservations faster through an existing site you have, an off-the-shelf software solution might just be perfect. With dozens of turnkey options, you can save time, money, and effort.
  • If, however, you’re trying to build a new marketplace that allows you to connect creators of, say, custom knit kitten sweaters with their fervent feline customer base, you’re going to be headed down the custom software path.
  • But, while thinking of your existing model is a good starting point, it’s by no means the only thing to review.
  • Think about your workflows & existing (in)efficiencies
    If your business is overwhelmed by too many manual processes, you might find your
    teams struggling to cover everything they have to do in a day. In situations like these, employees are often forced to develop their own processes in the name of efficiency, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to long term growth or strategy. Although this may work for them at that moment, this individualized approach to a workflow makes it harder for successful collaboration, and can lead to internal knowledge gaps.
  • What many don’t realize when thinking about the types of workflows that can be optimized is that these efficiencies aren’t necessarily confined only to routine daily tasks. A custom solution can control for just about anything you have to do – so even if it’s something done somewhat infrequently but is manually managed and, therefore, open to human error, you may still have an opportunity for increased productivity, which is pretty nifty when done right.
  • Analyze your business’s growth
    If you’re growing, that’s great! Obviously that’s a testament to the systems and tools you already have in place. But as you begin to reach capacity, you should consider how much more you can grow with out-of-the-box tools before you run into workflow and efficiency issues like we just covered above.
  • For example, if you find you’re already spending a small fortune on software licenses for a growing team, or if you’ve forgotten how many Zapier integrations you have, it may be time to get something custom in place that will allow for more stable growth.
  • On the flip side, even if things have slowed down, it’s a great time to dig into the root causes and figure out if a custom solution would give you a competitive advantage or help you develop processes and efficiencies that will get things back on track.
  • Consider your users
    If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably realized that at the heart of the other three points above are your users. Your team, not some software alone, is what has helped your business get to this point. So when analyzing your existing tools, you need to remember that your tech is there to help make your teams’ lives easier so that they can do their best work.
  • Given how important your users are, even if you find that your team is simply just struggling with legacy software that they can’t easily access, usually that is enough to validate at least the exploration of something custom.

ISN’T THERE JUST SOME CHECKLIST I CAN RUN THROUGH TO FIND OUT IF I NEED CUSTOM SOFTWARE?
That’s a question we actually get pretty often! While no quick checklist can make up for a thoughtful, all-encompassing assessment of the four thought-starters above, we’ve compiled a list of key questions from within those pieces:

  • Does your business have a unique requirement that you can’t find elsewhere?
  • Are there currently multiple pieces of software in use for a single process?
  • Is your company not integrated with services that your customers commonly utilize?
  • Are your employees or customers recording the same data or performing the same action over and over?
  • Are you unable to easily view comprehensible customer behavior and reporting across the entire customer experience?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might consider starting conversations around custom software design and development.

WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I THINK I’M READY FOR A CUSTOM SOFTWARE SOLUTION?
When you think you’re ready for custom software development, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that you and your teams have the time to work on the business instead of in the business. No matter how great your development partner may be, they haven’t been a part of your business yet so they aren’t aware of all of the challenges you face and optimizations that can be made out of the gate. To ensure the project runs smoothly as you adventure into custom software development, you’ll want to document the specific processes you want to enhance, as well as related processes, as thoroughly as possible.

From there, with your documentation ready, you’ll want to look at potential custom software development services. If it’s your first foray into custom software, finding a design and development partner that can support and guide you through the process is key.

And while industry experience is a great gauge, the right strategic thinking is even better. So, for example, if you’re hoping to overhaul and enhance the backend workflow of your ecommerce experience, you’ll want to find a partner who has the right approach in mind but is open to your unique needs, not just quickly retooling an old project.

While you’re looking through potential design and development partners, you’ll also want to check out all that we do here at VAULT. From persona research to product launch, we’ve been the secret to the success of hundreds of custom software development projects.