When choosing software solutions, the first option that may come to mind could be an off-the-shelf product. In this article, we talk about a list of drawbacks that you should take into account before considering this alternative.
When a company starts thinking about a new product or feature in the existing services, the question of using package software solutions always arises. It is known that an existing and mature software product can be implemented in much less time than creating a software from scratch, and having a clear picture of something that is already created and can be seen in action can be an advantage for some business cases.
However, there are a number of cases where packaged software can bring together a set of problems in the present, especially in the future. Let’s explore some of the main disadvantages of buying an off-the-shelf product.
Long term costs
At the beginning, the cost would be known. However, buying software solutions is also the start of a new commercial relationship with another company. Apart from the product itself, licenses will be required, so your organization will have a cost until the end of the product’s life. Support is probably not going to be free, and even if it is included in the price, the cost exists. In addition, as your organization scales up, the cost will increase, too.
Lack of flexibility
Software products are designed with a specific set of requirements. The problem is that requirements tend to change in the future, and a product that fits your needs today will likely need changes in the future. Depending on the changes, some of them may be accommodated in the product, but others will not, which will cause the need to either buy another product to fill the gap or create a new software or adapter to fit the new needs with the existing product.
Package software solutions are usually not very flexible and open to extension, and even if they are, it may require you to contact the company that created the software and hire a team to make the changes. If the changes can be done in-house, your development team will need to learn how to integrate with a product that they are not familiar with, which will increase your development costs when compared to extending a software your development team is already familiar with.
Unwanted or breaking changes
Sometimes, the products are upgraded or changed when most customers’ needs are considered. However, this may not be what your organization needs, which may trigger new training necessities or problems in your business operation. The new version may require you to buy new hardware or invest in adapting other products in your software to accommodate the changes.
When you buy a product, you usually buy a specific version of it. Think operating systems, for example. After some time, products will need to incorporate changes, especially those related to cybersecurity, which is an area directly related to the safety of your operation. Changes will accumulate, and at some point, a new version will be launched, and your organization may be forced to pay for the new version.
Specialized development team required for support
Some products are open for extension but often require the developers to have a deep understanding of the product or even be certified in it. Hiring a specialized development team is going to be more difficult and expensive than hiring a general purpose development team (like Java, .NET, React, etc.). There is the option of training your existing team for that, which will create a new cost and a future dependency with the vendor, as they usually require learning a proprietary programming language or set of tools.
Difficult to troubleshoot
When your team knows how a software is built and has access to the code, troubleshooting a production incident is going to be easier than troubleshooting a black box with an unknown and problematic outcome. Even in the cases where you can contact the vendor for support, the problem may be in the integration between their product and your solution, which will be challenging, as there will be no one that knows the entire system.
Once you integrate a product in your organization, you create a dependency with the vendor. If your organization needs to change the product for a different one, the cost of doing so would be much higher than if the software was developed in-house. This is because your organization would need to replace an entire system, with all its integration components with the rest of your systems, instead of just replacing one with a fixed set of components or features.
Risk of ceasing support
Even though package software solutions come with a support plan, with time, some products are discontinued. In some cases, there could be a mandatory upgrade (which would possibly bring an additional cost), but a product can be abandoned after reaching its end of life. If, for example, the company shuts down, your organization would be forced to switch to a new product.
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Since off-the-shelf software is used by multiple organizations, it would more likely be a target for a cyberattack. Even though all software is potentially vulnerable, a large user base is an incentive for attacks. If an attacker can penetrate a product, it could hit any user or organization in the world that is currently using that product.
In some cases, data stored by third party software is kept outside the organization. If the vendor is attacked, your organization data could be compromised. In addition, sometimes it is not easy to know the level of protection applied to the data. This is especially important with sensitive information.
Some final words
There are several cases when packaged software solutions may apply, for example, when there is a very specific knowledge domain not known by your organization or when a quick solution is needed to address a specific need. Of course, there are some benefits, but at times, the drawbacks of an off-the-shelf solution are not visible in the short term. Therefore, a careful analysis must be done when considering this alternative.
A custom software solution may take additional time to set up, but there are alternatives for overcoming this, like building an MVP (minimum viable product). In the long term, having custom software solutions will avoid the drawbacks of a packaged solution and will fit your company’s exact needs while also providing better flexibility and adaptability for the future.
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