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Custom Software Development: Should You Build Or Buy?

As a business, having your own custom software app sounds appealing. Creating something bespoke for either internal business processes or for clients to streamline their workflows can set you apart in today’s market. 

It’s a costly endeavour, no doubt, but it could be a solid investment in rare cases.

In this article, we’ll explore potential issues, benefits, when to invest, and even alternatives that could sit far better with your pocket.

What Is Custom Software Development? 

In the context of this article, custom software development refers to developing a program or application in order to solve a need or desire in the workplace. 

It could be your own need or that of a client – whatever the case, you’re looking to source custom development for an app idea of yours – or do it yourself. For example, creating an easier way to submit incident reports to help both employees and the safety department. 

What we aren’t referring to here is developing a game or other public-facing application.  

The Issue With Custom Software Development

A man burns his money, metaphorically representing the costs of sourced software development

We’ll start with the main problem of developing a solution from scratch – the cost. Whether you’re putting your own time or money in, it’s going to be a significant investment.

You could outsource, but this comes with its own host of problems – you can still expect to spend four to twelve months building a solution that suits the need it was designed for. 

As for monetary costs, it’s difficult to put an exact number on a development project. The initial estimation will likely skyrocket during countless iterations while trying to build something worthwhile. Going by the available estimates, a project like this could cost anywhere between $30,000 and $250,000.

The costs don’t end there, however. Your software will need to be maintained to keep up with the various updates to app markets in which you publish your creation. With Android and iOS dropping large updates every year, your software could simply stop working or be rejected by the store. Windows and Mac are no slouches either. To prevent your software’s premature death, you’ll spend another estimated 12-70% of your initial development cost on maintenance.

All of this would be fine if you were doing the bulk of the work yourself and building a product to take to market, but for an internal business app, the further $3,000 to $70,000 annually can’t be justified.

What’s more, you’ll need to put measures in place to comply with data protection laws like the GDPR and safeguard your software from cyber attacks as well. Our suggestion would be to follow the NIST Framework guidelines, for a start, at least.

For a more detailed view of the technical risks involved with software development, see this post by PixelCrayons.

The Benefits Of Custom Software Development

If you do manage to stomach the costs of developing a custom application for your business, you’ll have some benefits that go along with it. 

The first is that you can direct the development of your software. So anything you don’t like can be squashed, and missing pieces can be identified and added. Though this may significantly extend the development process, you’ll end up with something that’s actually useful to your business instead of having to adapt to a pre-built solution. 

You’ll also have control of security measures – so while this may be a large undertaking, you won’t be at the mercy of a third-party app. If a pre-built solution doesn’t take security seriously, any personal information collected can be at risk of cyber threats or data privacy law transgressions.

When To Invest In Full-Scale Development

If you’ve identified a real need in the market for a profit-focused app, then your first step would be creating a proof-of-concept app. This would be a bare minimum app to address the core need that your idea solves. From there you’ll want to get market validation and then expand upon your app. 

This can be a long and hard road, and there are plenty of resources on the web to help you on your way. 

What if all you want is an internal mobile business app to (for example) cut paper and printing costs and increase data security? Then a mobile app builder may be your answer… 

What Alternatives Are Out There?

This will depend on each individual’s needs. So we’ll try to cover a few needs in this section. 

One example is if you’re looking for a simple invoicing system. You don’t have to build something yourself – Quickbooks is one solution that’s already there. 

If you want to build a system that can better help you manage your field teams, or teams across multiple sites, something cloud-based like Service Titan could be your solution. Or, if you prefer to create a more customized suite of mobile apps for teams on the go, a business app builder like Appenate could be your answer. 

It all starts with a web search. Try to find a few tools that could help solve your need first, before you ever consider bespoke development. 

If you want your own branding on your business apps to present to clients or even just maintain that personal touch internally, something like Appenate would be a fit with its best-in-class white label options. 

At the end of the day, try to solve your initial need first. Start small, and take increasingly larger strides as you go along. 

What Can App Builders Offer You?

A man uses Appenate to streamline his workflow

No-code mobile app builders are increasingly common in the market these days. Few, however, are specialised in industrial-grade solutions across various industries. If you’d prefer a more generalised approach, Thunkable could be a start (great for building public-facing apps). 

On the other hand, if you’re looking to create powerful internal business apps, Appenate is the better option. For an idea of what we can do, see our case studies here

Don’t Stop Now

This is a rather difficult topic to explore and even write about. The reasons for creating an app can be countless. So we’ll conclude as follows.

If you’re dead set on creating an app of your very own from scratch, we recommend obtaining and learning how to use the software development kits (SDKs) of the platforms you wish to publish on. 

You’ll find the Android SDK here, the iOS SDK here, and the Windows SDK here. All the best of luck if you go this route – you can do it! 
If you’re simply looking to drag-and-drop-build a solid internal or client business app (with or without your own custom branding), sign up for a free Appenate trial here. You’ll enjoy world-class training and support for free, so you can learn quickly and reap your desired benefits fast.


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