Off the Shelf-Software VS Custom Software- Which is Better?

September 03, 2021
Topcone logo with text: Off the Shelf-Software VS Custom Software- Which is Better

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Whether you are a startup or an established business, choosing the right software to run your business can be daunting. One of the biggest decisions as an entrepreneur is deciding between off-the-shelf vs custom software. Which of these software solutions will suit your business model better? 

Choosing the right software application starts with understanding what your core needs are as a business. In my years of working with off-the-shelf software and building custom ones for clients, I have discovered that there are 5 things to consider when choosing the ideal software application for your company. 

There are five things to consider are;

  • Cost 
  • Features 
  • Technology 
  • Customer Support 
  • Community 

Comparing between off-the-shelf software vs custom software will help make or break your decision on which of the two options to go for.

Commercial Off the Shelf Software (COTS)

Off-the-shelf software is a ready-made application that packs a lot of features to help a business streamline its operations. Any business or company can buy and install COTS applications from online application stores.


Compared to custom software applications, COTS applications are way cheaper in terms of up-front cost. Since the application is ready for use, the setup cost also tends to be lower. COTS applications have low monthly or yearly licensing costs as well.

But COTS applications come with hidden costs. It can cost extra to upgrade the software applications to the latest version. Some upgrades may attract additional licensing fees. It may also cost more to personalize a commercial off the shelf software. 


A lot of businesses and companies go for off the shelf software because of how rich they are in features. These pre-designed apps suit specific niches and, therefore, carry features that will cater to those niches. If a COTS application has all the features you are looking for, then you will not have any hesitation to purchase it. 

But what about leveling up in the future? Technology continues to change and your business will have to make changes to stay afloat with the emerging trends. If your COTS application does not support this needed upgrade, you may have to discard it- or consider a costly upgrade. 


Off the shelf software applications are easy to install because they are designed for a general market. They are quick to deploy and use because they are already tried and tested by other businesses. For a business that is eager to scale up within the shortest time possible, COTS applications may be the solution to your problem.

One downside of off-the-shelf applications is that they can be incompatible with other software you are using in your business. Most businesses are forced to recreate or shut down the apps that do not work with the new software.

Some COTS applications take time to evolve with your business or industry. Maybe you want to upgrade the security setup of your business but the off-the-shelf application you are using is not yet upgraded to that technology. In such cases, you may have to pay extra for this needed upgrade.


Commercial off-the-shelf applications come with maintenance and support from their developers. Developers also try to add all resources that will help businesses troubleshoot existing problems through a Q&A platform. 

Since COTS applications serve a wide community of businesses, getting personalized assistance when needed can be a challenge. It can take months for developers to respond to every troubleshooting request from their clients. Also, most future updates put out by the developer may not necessarily benefit your business. 


COTS applications are developed for a vast number of businesses. This makes it easy to form online communities where businesses can discuss and gain self-help support on issues they are facing. 

Custom or Tailor-made Software-TMS

Tailor-made software is designed to suit the specific requirements of a business. They are also built from the ground up allowing you to determine what features are included in the final product.


Custom software gives you value for money because you own the rights to the entire software. All the features unique to the software are enjoyed by your business alone. This gives your business a competitive advantage over your rivals. 

But there is a high price to pay for this exclusivity. To begin with, there is the high upfront cost to consider. There are also hidden costs incurred when the software is going through changes, upgrades, and full-time testing by the developers.


Custom software allows you to start with the necessary features and upgrade gradually as your business grows. The application grows with your business and this means you will always have a competitive edge over your rivals. 

But the sad part about custom software is the multitude of bugs they may harbor. Since it is only one company using the app, developers cannot run a prior test on various platforms before delivering the final products. The final software may have to go through a series of bug-fixing before it is fully optimized for your business. 


It is easier for your business to adapt to custom software because it is designed specifically for you. The software language and infrastructure are all tailored to match your needs and vision. Investments in updates and upgrades are 100% controlled by your company.

But to get to the right custom software application, developers have to spend hours in the troubleshooting phase. It may take a while before that final product is delivered. Nonetheless, there are great developers who can do the job quicker. You only have to find the right guy for the job. 


Getting support from the developer is super-fast since you are the only business using the custom software.


Unfortunately, you have no community to provide useful self-help tips. But if you are working with a good developer, you will always get answers to your problems.

Final thoughts

If you are looking for a simple software that has all the features to run your business, then an off-the-shelf software application will suit your business. But if you are looking for cutting edge software applications that unlock all the right features for your business and help you personalize the way you do business, then custom software apps are the best option. 

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Hashtags: #SoftwareSelection #CustomSoftware #OffTheShelfSoftware #COTSApplications #SoftwareDevelopment #BusinessSoftware #SoftwareCost #TechnologyConsiderations #CustomerSupport #SoftwareCommunity