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Jonathan GervaisJul 6, 2022 at 11:04 AM3 min read

Off-the-Shelf vs Custom Development Solutions: The Pros and Cons

When organizations have built the business case for a software solution and prefer to engage with software and services providers rather than build in-house, they have the choice between buying an off-the-shelf solution or having a solution custom built. Depending on your business needs, either option has pros and cons. Here is what you should consider when making that decision.

The Difference Between Off-the-Shelf and Custom Development Solutions

An off-the-shelf solution is a software that a vendor builds, sells and deploys. It is usually rich in functionality and is configurable. The concept of configuration means that, once you have gathered your requirements, a system admin can change the software's parameters to reflect the needs identified, without requiring any coding skills.

A custom development solution involves collecting the precise business and software requirements from the customer and then building the specific solution by in-house or external software developers.

Off-the-Shelf versus Custom Development: A Comparison


Less risky as the software already exists and has been deployed for other customers. Configuration is less of a heavy lift than development. Instead of manual workarounds to off-the-shelf product gaps, your solution is designed to meet all of your needs. Automation and efficiencies are maximized by ensuring the highest level of fit.
Can be easier to evolve. When changes to the software are required, modifying the configuration can be simpler. High level of personalization of the user interface and overall employee experience.
Can be faster to deploy as deployment and configuration usually take less time than custom coding.  
Benefit from new functionality through frequent releases and patches provided by the software vendor.  
Automation is not optimal. The largest vendors offering the broadest functionality seldom reach a fit to customer's requirements much greater than 80 to 90%. Although these are good numbers, the remaining requirements not being met must be treated with manual workarounds. Few vendors who sell configurable products are keen to fill the gap with custom development. Risk of not meeting timelines for the planned go-live date. Coding has less certainty than a configurable solution.
User experience is not personalized. As most vendors sell a product to the broadest possible market, there are limitations on how much theming the software can do for a specific customer. Potential for longer cycles and delays to deliver changes, new functionality and bug fixes to the solution once it's live.
  May not be able to benefit from the constant innovations added to a platform. Vendors of configurable products have frequent releases where customers can take advantage of new functionality.


The Best of Both Worlds

But off-the-shelf and custom development solutions might not be your only options. You may select a vendor that provides a working platform to meet your needs, fills the gap through custom development, and builds the solution in a configurable way.

In choosing a Hybrid, you benefit from innovations and the evolution cycle times to change the parameters equal to the off-the-shelf option.

In order for your project to be successful, you must select a reputable partner with a solid track record of delivering custom solutions in an acceptable timeframe and to their customer's high level of satisfaction.


In making the decision for one of the options, you should choose the criteria most important to you, and your risk tolerance. The information provided in this blog post should serve as some elements to consider when going through the planning process and finalizing your Business Case.

Need help evaluating your options?

Our team can help you evaluate your options between Off-the-Shelf, Custom Development and Hybrid, and assist you with your business case.

Get in touch


Jonathan Gervais

Chief Operating Officer at WorkAxle