When and how to commission bespoke software

02 Aug 2022 by Peter Ebdon

Undeniably, there are many good off-the-shelf-solutions on the market for performing specific tasks. But if you need multiple software packages for different tasks things can get very expensive and very messy. It’s often difficult to get those different software solutions to talk to each other efficiently and therefore avoid issues with amalgamating data or duplicating processes, both of which cost time and money. This is when a bespoke software solution may be the way to go.

In this situation, many organisations struggle to get the maximum benefit from each different software system and find there are areas where none of the systems actually fully deliver the functionality they really need.  They are then forced to build workarounds into their business processes in order to fit in with the software, as opposed to the software working 100% for them.

If your business is struggling with this scenario and you’re wondering whether to upgrade or switch to new software, you might want to consider the benefits of a bespoke solution.

The benefits of a bespoke software solution

Aside from the ability to tailor functionality to your business needs, there are a couple of other important advantages to consider.

Cheaper ongoing costs – off-the-shelf solutions usually incur a hefty annual or monthly subscription fee or charges to upgrade your system to avoid being stuck with obsolete software

Control over upgrades – your software is upgraded when and how you want it to be. No enforced changes to functionality and interfaces for staff to have to relearn

Software ownership – a good developer won’t try to claim ownership of your source code to keep you trapped. The software belongs to you and you are free to change it however, whenever and with whichever developer you choose

Finding a Developer

You might want to start from scratch, or if you’re heavily invested with your current software, you could look at a bespoke solution to work alongside it and give you the additional functionality you’re currently missing. Either way, a bespoke solution gives you the freedom to concentrate on the functionality your business needs in order to grow and get ahead of the competition, and not struggle with the constraints of a ‘one size fits all’ solution. A good software developer should be able to offer advice and accommodate your needs whichever route you’re planning.

Naturally, you need to make sure that your bespoke solution is designed and developed by experienced and trusted professionals using tried and tested technology. Achorda has over 25 years’ experience in software design and development and can offer invaluable advice to customers when planning their next digital transformation.

It’s also very important to check out how a developer deals with source code ownership so that you can avoid being ‘tied in’ with a specific development company for the entire life of your software. For example, with Achorda you have full ownership of your source code. This means you are free to engage any developer to make changes to your bespoke solution at any time should you decide to.

Step 1 - Talk to all the stakeholders

Gather as much information as possible from the people who will actually be using the system. It’s worth investing some time for this as making assumptions at top management level about what staff or departments actually need the application to do can lead to costly mistakes when development heads off in the wrong direction. Staff may be used to using a legacy system and nervous about changing procedures. To avoid resistance to a new system, find out what key functionality they a)find indispensable and b)wish they had.

Examples might be:

  • Automated document management so that files can be stored and shared more easily and securely
  • Workflow automation to streamline processes, allocate tasks, avoid repetition, avoid mistakes
  • Email automation to save admin time and ensure important communications are sent at the right time
  • Customer / member account management to automate communications, invoicing, levying and account detail updating
  • Customised reporting to keep track of unique business data
  • Mobile application – to work with your systems and improve engagement / efficiency for employees or customers

Step 2 – Consider your current systems and possible software integration

Consider what software your business already uses and whether it can be integrated with a new application to achieve your goals. Any new developer will need to know what systems you are currently using and how you use them in order to get an understanding of your business processes. They will be able to advise whether your existing solutions can be integrated or whether it would be more cost effective to replace them with bespoke functionality.

Step 3 – Write a brief for your bespoke software requirements

Ideally your brief should outline both the essential functionality and a wish list of ‘nice to haves’. This way you can get expert advice on what can be included to meet any budget limitations and what could be considered for future phases and how that would be road mapped.

Start by explaining what the new system is going to replace and the issues you are experiencing with it. Any information you can provide regarding the technology used to run the systems will be useful at this stage.

Try to spell out what you need the new system to do using brief bullet points. List them as essential functionality or ‘nice to haves’.

Give an idea of your ideal timeline for going live. Bespoke software requires an investment of time to get right so you need to be realistic with your expectations here.

Step 4 – Consult with a software specialist

Once you’re happy with your brief it’s time to send it to a specialist software development company. Don’t just send it to a blanket list of developers, you will end up wasting lots of time down rabbit holes being drawn in different directions. Pick a select few who offer plenty of experience in delivering the kind of solution you are looking for.

An initial phone call with Achorda will provide you with a consultation where you can discuss your brief and get a basic understanding of what’s possible and what isn’t. You can also discuss budgets and ballpark figures for costs.

Following this initial discussion you may want to amend your brief slightly and consider any development phases suggested by Achorda.

Step 5 – Obtain a design quote

Unless your requirements are very simple, Achorda will need to spend some time working out the best way to deliver the solution you really need. After discussing your brief and ironing out any questions Achorda will be able to quote to produce a Software Design Specification Document which will then facilitate a more accurate quote for development.

Costs to produce this document will vary depending on the complexity of the brief.

Step 6 – Commission a Software Design Specification and Development quote

With Achorda there is no commitment to commission the entire project at this stage, you are only accepting a quote to design your software solution. This process will include the production of wireframes for pages to explain the proposed UX Design, functionality and database structure. Achorda will explain how everything will work together including how APIs can be used to integrate with current software.

This process also facilitates more accurate quoting for the Graphic Design and Development of your software project and Achorda will be able to break down those costs into phases if required in order to meet budget and time constraints.

This document will also set out the road map and time frame for the development project.

Step 7 – Agree the quote and get the project started

You’re ready to go! After the Software Design Specification has been completed and you have agreed the quote for Development, Achorda will begin your project as per the agreed timescales.

Achorda adopt an agile approach to Project Management, liaising with you through every step:

  • Graphic Design – creating XD mock-ups for page layouts to agree UI Design
  • Software Development – the creation of HTML templates, stylesheets, databases and script
  • Testing – making sure the software delivers as it is supposed to and looks good across all media and obtaining feedback from your organisation
  • Re-evaluation – making any amendments within scope to iron out any issues discovered
  • Go Live – assisting you with hosting and launching your new software solution
  • Support – ongoing help with learning about your new system and ironing out any bugs
  • Evolution and Growth – implementing additional software development phases; assisting you with specialist software consultation to discuss ideas to expand on your software investment as your business evolves

If you’d like a consultation for a bespoke software project, please get in touch. We’d love to help you get started.

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