When Is Out of the Box Out of the Question?

You may feel like everything about your business is unique: your clients, your vision, your processes, everything.

It’s a common attitude for businesses to take. But when it comes to software there is also a seemingly endless range of products and services to meet your needs.

As a result, when you’re looking for a software solution it can be hard to determine whether to go for a ready-made product or to commission a brand-new piece of software.

Beyond looking for a solution to a problem, you should also consider how the software will help you in the bigger picture of your strategic goals.

If your company is facing difficulties that can be solved by software, but you aren’t sure if an existing application is the right solution, this article may help you decide.

Commercial Off The Shelf Software: Pros and Cons


  • Commercial Off The Shelf (or COTS) software is generally well established, with a large user base and a team of support staff, so if you encounter issues help will be at hand.
  • The application will be designed with its functionality in mind, which means its features are usually reliable and easy to use.
  • Initial costs are comparatively low thanks to the commodified nature of the product. 
  • Businesses using the product don’t need to worry about ongoing upkeep and maintenance costs for their business.
  • It can help you achieve your strategic objectives with a minimum of time and hassle.


  • The application’s features will be rigid. If you need it to perform a task it’s not built specifically to do, or your needs change, the application might not be able to provide the solution.
  • Due to the software’s inflexibility, you may find that your company has to change its processes to accommodate the software.
  • Software built to service the most common market needs rarely change without widespread pressure or a considerable need to do so. Any issues that you and you alone have will not be resolved.
  • Costs can increase significantly if you want to add more users or upgrade to a better plan.
  • You are at the mercy of the software owner should they decide to increase costs, change functionality or reduce support over time. This can cause significant impacts on your business at short notice.

Bespoke Software: Pros and Cons


  • Bespoke software is made specifically to meet your individual needs and to fit seamlessly into your existing processes. It can facilitate innovation and growth where other software could be a barrier.
  • Though you will pay more upfront for bespoke software, the long term costs are much lower. You won’t have to pay monthly contract fees or additional costs for upgrading your capacity.
  • You will have a unique piece of software that gives you an invaluable competitive advantage. No other company will have access to your software and the benefits it provides.
  • It removes reliance on a third party supplier, whose actions you have no power over as a customer. This can protect you from unexpected cost increases and operational obstacles. 
  • It can serve as an IP asset and value multiplier for your business when assessing it as a going concern.  


  • The design and build of bespoke software can be costly, so you’ll need to invest in the software upfront.
  • It can take a long time to develop and implement the software, especially if your needs are complex.
  • You will be responsible for the ongoing support and maintenance of the software once development is complete.

Four questions

To help you make a decision about choosing COTS or bespoke software, here are four important questions you should ask yourself;

  • Will this software support an activity unique to my business?
  • Will it give me a competitive advantage?
  • Is this software supporting an area where we are innovating?
  • Will it add value to the business?

The greater the number of times you can say ‘yes’ to the above questions, the more compelling the argument will be for commissioning a piece of software for your business.

If the answers are more ‘no’, then you should aim to find a software tool or combination of tools that will serve your purpose. 

A third option open to you is to commission a thin ‘layer’ of bespoke software to sit on top of a COTS product, taking your business the extra distance it needs to go.  

Building a Unique Solution for ICL

Like any other provider of a medical degree, the Imperial College School of Medicine must prove to the General Medical Council that their course ensures graduates are fit to practice.

To provide the necessary proof, Imperial turned to curriculum mapping software, but found the off-the-shelf applications unsuitable. That’s when they turned to Isotoma.

We worked with Imperial to build Sofia, a bespoke curriculum mapping tool that provided the all-round solution the college needed. Sofia not only makes it easy for Imperial to demonstrate the depth and quality of their medical degree, but it also enables quick and easy changes to the curriculum and facilitates their students in learning, revising, and, ultimately, succeeding.

Boost Your Business with Bespoke Software

Fill the gaps in your processes, solve your problems, and gain an advantage over your competitors with bespoke software.If you want to know how your issues can be resolved by a custom application built by our developers, get in touch with the Isotoma team today.

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