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Bespoke v.s Off-the-shelf

All requirements within your mobile strategy, not fulfilled by Built In applications, face an Off-the-Shelf v.s. Bespoke Build decision. This is important when looking at any software solution, for any business.

There are three types of enterprise mobile apps: Built-In (i.e mail or calendar), Off-the-Shelf (i.e. from the app marketplaces) and Bespoke (created for a company). A good mobile strategy incorporates all three in a way that maximises Return on Investment (ROI). This mobile strategy should aim to address all your business’ Commercial Requirements.

If a requirement or set of requirements can be fulfilled by a Built-In application, then building a case for Bespoke or Off-the-Shelf is very hard. In this case, there is rarely value that can be added by developing Bespoke. Built In apps can be used to provide value to the organisation, without having to invest in off-the-shelf or bespoke apps.

All other requirements within your mobile strategy, not fulfilled by Built In applications, face an Off-the-Shelf v.s. Bespoke Build decision. This is an important decision to make when looking at any software solution, for any business. However, due to the relationship that users tend to have with mobile devices, and the expectations they have of apps on those devices, the importance of this decision is amplified when looking at mobile.

There are a number of key elements to consider:

  1. Nature of Commercial Objectives
  2. Strategic value of the solution
  3. Number of users
  4. User adoption

Nature of Commercial Objectives

To evaluate the nature of commercial objectives, it’s important for organisations to look at the nature of the process, user or objective that the application is addressing. Essentially, the question that companies need to ask themselves is, what are you trying to achieve?

Look to ascertain whether it is core to your business

Functions core to the business is far more likely to provide the ROI as a bespoke build. Every business has its own specific systems and workflows around their core offering and a bespoke build ensures efficiency by tailoring the solution to these business needs. As these systems and workflows are unique to the business, companies are able to gain a competitive advantage by creating their own apps, as opposed to using solutions that are available to others.

For functions which are core to the business, taking a bespoke approach means that the app is created around a specific scope and requirement. There will be no additional or unnecessary functions that can make processes longer and impact the application’s performance. Off-the-shelf products, by definition, are built for a wider range of use cases. Off-The-Shelf apps work well for ancillary functions, where the business can comfortably tailor its own processes to incorporate the software and performance, or where competitive advantage is not as important.

Look at whether you are aiming for it to be a differentiator

Bespoke applications provide a powerful tool for differentiation within a market. This is generally more obvious when looking at client or customer facing applications, but is equally important in enterprise scenarios, where the transfer of specific workflows represents significant efficiency benefits.

For the user

Bespoke applications are designed for specific use cases and as such the user is placed at the centre of the concept. This is an area that Mubaloo specialises in and always employs a user-centric approach to the design of an application. This involves aligning the business and technical requirements with the user needs, wants and expectations, ensuring a seamless and user-friendly in-app experience. This is crucial for user engagement as it promotes easier onboarding and better retention when the application is implemented.

For the business

This goes back to whether the process is core to your business. When developing bespoke, the business is able to incorporate its key workflows, these represent IP and in turn, this IP differentiates a business from its competitors; better systems equals greater cost efficiency, which equals greater profit. This IP and the resulting benefits are often lost with an Off-the-Shelf product, where the business has to tailor its systems to the software that is being implemented.

Off-the-Shelf delivers greater efficiencies where there is focus on processes which are common across all businesses. This will include general productivity applications, for example, Microsoft Office, or for general administration tasks such as timekeeping, expenses, holiday requests or even meeting room management. Generally speaking, the value of creating a bespoke solution diminishes when there is no unique operational value in creating an application.

Strategic Value of Solution

This comes from understanding where this application sits within your Mobile Roadmap and the wider Business Plan. Is this a short term fix (tactical) or long term decision (strategic)?

A short term fix, or one-shot application, that addresses a current issue, or set of issues, but does not sit within your mobile roadmap, or business strategy, would drive the decision towards Off-the-Shelf.

Long term strategic applications drive more value and approach tends towards bespoke development. There is a very powerful reason for this; when Mubaloo builds a bespoke application it is built from the ground up for the client to own; code base and IP are handed over at the end of the project.

Ownership of the application gives control to the client and allows them to make any changes that they want, in turn allowing the application to evolve with the business. Bespoke developments generally take a phased approach (the full outline of this is in our approach). Here, the first phase addresses the key commercial requirements. This is then released and feedback is gained for future phases. This feedback is used to inform improvements or make changes to the app, to evolve the offering and create long-term value.
As ownership of Off-the-Shelf is generally held with third parties, they do not hold this flexibility and companies are reliant on the third party providers delivering improvements.

Number of Users

User numbers are always important when making the decision between off-the-shelf and bespoke and this often comes down to cost. These costs are not always compared fairly as they tend to be capital expenditure versus operational expenditure.

The most obvious of these is licensing costs for off-the-shelf products, which will be higher where there are a large number of users. Looking at the upfront capital expenditure of a bespoke build against the ongoing operational expenditure of off-the-shelf, over time, is an important consideration. In growing businesses, it is also worth considering future users. With a bespoke build, where you own the application, there is no additional cost to this growth.

Another less obvious cost is training. As mentioned, building bespoke allows for the replication of business workflows or for new workflows to be designed with a well-defined user journey. This means that there is rarely a need for change management or high training costs on bespoke applications. The other side of this is that where there are very few users, it is often harder to get ROI, as tailoring the user workflows for an off-the-shelf product requires training, but only a small number of people will require this training.

User Adoption

The final consideration is user adoption, this is key to the success of any application and having a firm understanding of the user is crucial. Other important factors here include understanding the flexibility of the User Interfaces (UI) and logic of the Off-the-Shelf products in question.

The key to adoption is user experience (UX). A bespoke product is built with both the specific user and the specific task in mind, which means that the final product provides a far smoother experience, that the user expects to follow. Off-the-Shelf often provides the ability to customise, however, this rarely comes close to the blank page nature of a bespoke build. Therefore, Off-the-Shelf is harder to adopt from a UX standpoint. Due to their nature, Off-the-Shelf products are built to cover a number of requirements and this can lead to a poorer experience: Processes can be over complicated by functionality not required by the user and UI is generally far less intuitive for performing specific tasks.

If change management may be an issue, then involving current users in the scoping and design process through prototypes is a powerful way of onboarding. This is only possible with a bespoke build.

Conclusion

Both of these solution types will play an important part in your mobile ecosystem now and in the future. Using the right solution for the right elements of your mobile strategy is crucial for driving ROI. Balancing the areas covered in this document should provide the answer to which solution you should be using for the requirements you have. If you are still unsure then contact Mubaloo.

Our approach to any project as a partner. With 6 years and over 240 apps built, we have a vast experience of the landscape. The off-the-shelf vs bespoke decision is one that we understand and are always prepared to assist in identifying where off-the-shelf can deliver the most value and where bespoke will help. We would never build an application for requirements that can be covered by an Off-the-Shelf product, without a clear understanding of the use case and the knowledge that it will provide ROI.

By Marcus Carter

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