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The Impact of Custom Software Development on Business Efficiency

Not so long ago, the very idea of custom software development was unimaginable to all but the very largest companies and tech developers themselves. Building business-ready software applications required not only programming expertise but the necessary resources to absorb lengthy development lead times.

Programmes themselves tended to be ‘monolithic’ in nature – complete, self-contained pieces of coding that were difficult to tinker with or adjust to specific requirements without impacting the functionality of the whole. This, too, added to the length of time development took. If in testing you found something wasn’t quite right with a programme, it could mean going back to the drawing board to start over again, due to the knock-on effects that changing one small part could have on the whole.

Safe to say, all of this meant that the overwhelming majority of businesses were software consumers, but not producers. They bought their tech off the shelf and made do with whatever it was that it could do. Development was a specialist, even esoteric, field.

But things have changed. The emergence of low- and no-code development tools (software that builds software, including AI), open architectures and more efficient approaches to development like Agile and DevOps have combined to level the playing field – to such an extent that, for many businesses, the possibility creating their own software to meet their own needs is nowadays very real.

Or at least hiring a developer to do it for them. Because, for all of the reasons listed above, custom software development services are now affordable, accessible and commonplace.

The key question is, of course, why would you need to go to the trouble of hiring someone to build a piece of software for you when you could just buy something ready-made? A parallel trend in the world of digital technology has been the evolution of cloud computing and the ‘as a service’ model of accessing software on subscription and on demand.

When downloading an app is cheaper and easier than ever, and there is such an enormous range of choices, what possible benefits can the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach have?

How Custom Software Development Boosts Efficiency

As a digital services specialist, we’d never advocate pitting custom development versus off-the-shelf software as an either-or choice. Both have important roles to play, and the simplicity, accessibility and choice offered by the modern app market is an essential driver of digital transformation. We use plenty of ready-made software products day in and day out.

But it’s equally true that custom-building a piece of software can achieve things that buying a ready-made product can’t. Pre-built software tools are designed to perform a generalised set of functions; custom-built means creating something to serve a specific purpose and to address a specific need.

With ready-made tools, you may have to compromise on what you really want the software to do; with custom-built, you get exactly what you want. And with off-the-shelf apps, that compromise might mean the business value or ROI you get from investing in software is also compromised. With custom development, you have much more control over the value you get.

This manifests itself in various ways. But one of the most important is the way that custom-built software can impact efficiency.

Here are some key ways that happens.

Custom Software Development

Streamlining and Automating Workflows and Automating Tasks

Business software is all about processes and operations. You use software to perform tasks more quickly and efficiently than could be done using ‘manual’ methods. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much point. However, how efficient software is depends on how well-suited it is to the task at hand.

Every business is different, every business process is different. You can choose off-the-shelf solutions that are a ‘best fit’ for your workflows, but they’re unlikely to be a perfect fit. If you custom build, you do get that perfect alignment. When you multiply applications across many different tasks and workflows, that adds up to significant gains in how streamlined and efficient everything becomes.

Along the same lines, custom-built applications can be designed so they link together more smoothly. And that also opens the door to more comprehensive automation of entire workflows, not just isolated tasks.

Boosting Scalability and Adaptability

Business processes and workflows are not just varied and unique. They are also dynamic and change over time. One of the things a lot of businesses notice is that purchased software does a good job at first. But over time, it feels less and less of a good fit for what they need.

Or as is also often the case, businesses also come to feel ageing software actually gets in the way of being able to improve and innovate. Or deliver the experiences their customers are looking for. We hear this a lot with websites and other online platforms, for example, where the CMS that comes with a particular web hosting service doesn’t allow businesses to add new features they know would add value for their customers.

Custom applications can be built not just to meet present needs, but to grow and adapt with the business in the future, too. This is where software architecture becomes particularly important, as ‘open’ approaches like API-first, headless and microservices lay the groundwork for future adaptability. This puts businesses in a better position to respond to changing demands at speed, making sure software continually delivers optimum value and radically improving the efficiency of development by replacing large-scale projects with continuous improvement (CI) processes.

Enhanced Communication and Collaboration

Further picking up on the idea of open architecture, custom-built software can be designed specifically to mesh with existing systems and tools. Even with off-the-shelf software, APIs have become standard, in recognition of the fact that standalone, isolated applications rarely meet the needs of businesses these days. Every organisation uses dozens of different types of software. And what you want is everything working and connecting together seamlessly for maximum efficiency.

Connecting two pieces of software together via an API has become close to essential. But what’s even more useful is having control over how the applications interact with one another, how data is shared, what the underlying workflows look like etc. You’ll often see apps that advertise that they come with software development kits (SDKs) as well as APIs. SDKs open a platform up to further customisation beyond integration, and are therefore an important tool for further enhancing collaboration between systems, and how efficiently whole systems function.

Improved Data Management and Analytics

Data is perhaps the most valuable digital asset any modern business has. It powers everything from strategic decision-making to how you shape and manage your customer relationships. On the flip side, the value of data makes it a security risk, and businesses carry significant compliance responsibilities on issues like data protection and privacy these days.

For reasons of both risk and reward, it makes sense to take full ownership of data by building your own data software, rather than relying on off-the-shelf products. For business intelligence purposes, it’s all about choosing the data you gather, where you get it from, how you analyse it and where you make the results available. A purpose-built approach improves the chances of getting accurate, relevant insights that can make a genuine difference to your business.

As for data security, any gaps between your requirements and risk profile and what an off-the-shelf product delivers mean gaps in your defences. Customised solutions give you that extra peace of mind, and save time and resources addressing issues further down the line.

Increased Employee Productivity

Finally, you can’t talk about efficiency improvements without some reference to productivity. Custom-built software can boost productivity in various ways, for example via automation. But pre-built software delivers the same benefit. For example, there is a lot of buzz around the way that Gen AI products like Co-Pilot are boosting productivity in software development!

The key advantage custom software has is that it can be tailored to the way teams work. This takes us back to matching those workflows again. But software is ultimately a tool that should be there to enhance the way people work. If you build your software to suit the needs of specific users, it follows that you unlock greater productivity.

What to Look for When Choosing Custom Software Development Services

To get custom software development right, you need two things. Expertise in programming and development is a given. But the real differentiator is the ability to work closely with businesses and people, put their needs and objectives front and centre, and then build solutions that deliver.

You can have all the programming know-how in the world. But without that X-factor of business acumen and people skills that allow you to understand the need and work collaboratively in achieving it, you won’t get the benefits you should get from custom software.

At Key Element, we have 40 years experience of web and application development, serving businesses across London, Essex, the South East and beyond. Our way of working is built entirely around engaging with you, the client, to understand the intricacies of your business and involve you directly in the development process, so we can be sure of building tailored solutions that deliver. Please contact us today to find out more.

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