Unleashing the power of custom software solutions: a guide to bespoke development

Custom software development is the process of creating bespoke software solutions to address specific needs or challenges within a business or organisation. Unlike off-the-shelf, custom software is built from scratch or adapted from existing platforms.

What differentiates custom software from other types of software is the personalisation level which ensures a business can meet unique requirements, enable specialist workflows, and deliver specific user experiences. What’s more, custom software can help businesses meet specific needs such as cost optimisation, better ROI, and greater transparency.  

The evolution of custom software development

Custom software development has evolved significantly over the past 30 years, driven by technological advancements and changing business needs: 

  • 1980s-1990s: Custom software was primarily developed in-house or by specialised software vendors, focusing on basic functionalities and limited scalability. 
  • 2000s: The rise of web-based technologies and open-source platforms facilitated the development of more scalable and cost-effective custom solutions. 
  • 2010s: Cloud computing, mobile technologies, and agile development methodologies revolutionised custom software development, enabling rapid prototyping, continuous delivery, and enhanced collaboration. 
  • 2020s: Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT) are shaping the next generation of custom software, driving innovation across industries. 

Addressing business needs and challenges

Personalisation drives performance and better customer outcomes. According to McKinsey, 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions, and 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen. What’s more, companies that grow faster drive 40% more of their revenue from personalisation than their slower-growing counterparts. 

Custom software is essential in developing critical personalised services and can provide efficient and flexible tools that align with the specific operational and strategic business goals, providing a wide range of benefits that can help a business to thrive and grow, such as: 

  1. Operational efficiency

Custom software can automate repetitive tasks, streamline workflows, and integrate various business processes, reducing the time and effort required for manual operations. This leads to improved productivity and efficiency. 

  1. Scalability

As a business grows, so do its needs. Tailored software solutions can be designed with scalability in mind, allowing systems to expand and adapt to increasing workloads, additional users, and new functionalities - without compromising performance. 

  1. Cost reduction

By automating processes and reducing manual involvement, custom software can help lower operational costs. It can also minimise the need for multiple off-the-shelf software licenses, support, and maintenance fees by consolidating functionalities into a single solution. 

  1. Competitive advantage

Custom software can be designed to meet the unique requirements of a business, providing features and capabilities that off-the-shelf solutions cannot. This can create a competitive edge by enabling innovation, improving customer experiences, and enhancing service delivery. 

  1. Enhanced customer experience

Tailored software can use customer data from various sources to offer personalised services, improve customer support, and foster stronger customer relationships. 

  1. Data integration and management

Custom solutions can integrate different data sources and systems, ensuring seamless data flow across the organisation. This improves accuracy, accessibility, and provides a unified platform for better decision-making. 

  1. Security and compliance

Off-the-shelf software might not fully address the specific security needs or regulatory requirements of a business. Custom software can be designed with stringent security protocols and compliance measures tailored to the specific industry standards and regulations. 

  1. Flexibility and adaptability

Tailored software is built to match the specific workflows and processes of a business. It can be easily modified and updated to adapt to new requirements, market changes, or internal process improvements. 

  1. Integration with legacy systems

Many businesses rely on legacy systems that may not be compatible with new off-the-shelf software. Custom software can be designed to integrate with these existing systems, extending their life and enhancing their functionality. 

  1. Real-time reporting and analytics

Custom software can provide real-time data collection, analysis, and reporting tailored to the specific metrics and KPIs of a business. This enables more informed decision-making and quicker response to market changes. 

  1. Supply chain optimisation

For businesses with complex supply chains, tailored software can optimise inventory management, logistics, and supplier interactions, improving efficiency and reducing costs. 

  1. Unique business processes

Every business has unique processes that standard software might not accommodate well. Custom software can be designed to fit these processes perfectly, ensuring that the software supports, rather than dictates, the way the business operates. 

The different faces of custom software today

These days, custom software development encompasses a wide range of applications tailored to meet specific business needs. Here are some of the key types: 

Customer Relationship Management (CRM): This type of software, such as the custom CRM system Propel Tech created for telecoms firm Quickline, helps businesses manage interactions with current and potential customers, streamlining sales, marketing, and customer service processes.  

Web-based Applications: These are popular types of software applications accessed via web browsers over the internet, offering flexibility and accessibility across devices.  

Mobile Apps: Custom mobile applications, like the B2B app Propel Tech created for health and safety management firm, Prime Systems, are designed for specific operating systems (iOS, Android) and offer personalised experiences for users on smartphones and tablets. 

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems: ERP software integrates various business processes, such as accounting, inventory management, human resources, and supply chain operations, into a single platform. 

Operations Management Software: These solutions focus on optimising internal processes and workflows, enhancing productivity and efficiency across departments. A great example is Propel Tech’s real-time end-2-end system for facilities management company, Simply Washrooms, which keeps teams moving, resources tracked, and vital documentation logged. 

Enterprise Software Solutions: Are tailored enterprise software addresses complex organisational challenges, such as workflow automation, data analytics and business intelligence. 

E-commerce Platforms: Custom ecommerce solutions, such as the pitch booking and payments system for grassroots football organisation, Powerleague, facilitate online transactions, providing features like product catalog management, secure payments, and order processing. 

Custom software drives business efficiency

It’s fair to say that all businesses want to drive efficiency, achieving better quality outputs with less waste. Custom software development enhances operational efficiency through: 

  • Intuitive interfaces: Custom solutions can be designed with user-friendly interfaces tailored to the target audience, improving usability and adoption. 
  • Workflow optimisation: Custom software streamlines complex processes, reducing manual tasks and minimising errors. 
  • Personalisation: Custom applications can deliver personalised experiences based on user preferences, behaviour and historical data, increasing engagement and satisfaction. 
  • Performance: Custom software is optimised for performance and reliability, delivering faster response times and minimising downtime. 

Custom software success requires collaborators

Successful custom software development shouldn’t just be confined to the IT department, with the most effective outcomes involving various stakeholders throughout a business, including: 

  • IT directors will provide strategic direction and oversee technical requirements and infrastructure. 
  • End users in the business will be involved from the briefing stage and throughout the development process to provide feedback and insights and ensure the software meets their needs and expectations. 
  • Business leaders will support the work, engage the wider business, and help to define project goals, priorities, and budgets, and ensure alignment with strategic objectives. 
  • Software developers will design, code, and test custom software solutions according to business requirements and specifications. 
  • Software testers will conduct thorough testing to identify and resolve bugs, ensuring software quality and reliability. 

Custom software is a must for business growth and technology improvement

Businesses should consider custom software development when: 

  • There is a need to personalise processes to meet customer or business needs, and improve user experience, customer retention, association, and loyalty.  
  • Off-the-shelf solutions do not meet specific requirements or offer limited customisation options. 
  • There is a need to automate manual processes, improve efficiency, or enhance workflows and transparency. 
  • Scalability, security, or integration requirements cannot be met by off the shelf or existing systems. 

To minimise disruption and ensure successful custom software implementation, businesses should: 

  • Clearly define project objectives, requirements, and success criteria from the outset. 
  • Involve key stakeholders throughout the development lifecycle to ensure alignment and buy-in. 
  • Allocate sufficient time, resources and budgets for planning, development, testing, and deployment phases. 
  • Implement change management strategies to facilitate user adoption and mitigate resistance.  

Exploring Custom software development - front-end and back-end frameworks

 

Choosing the right front-end and back-end frameworks for custom software development is essential to the success of your custom software development project.  

Selecting the right framework depends on various factors, including project requirements, team expertise, performance needs, and the available ecosystem. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of popular frameworks can help you make informed decisions to build efficient, scalable, and maintainable software applications. 

Front-end frameworks 

Front-end frameworks are used to build the user interface (UI) and client-side logic of web applications. They help developers create responsive, dynamic, and interactive experiences for users. 

Popular front-end frameworks 

React.js 

  • Developed by Facebook 
  • Component-based architecture 
  • Virtual DOM for efficient rendering 
  • A large ecosystem with extensive library support 

Angular 

  • Developed by Google 
  • Comprehensive MVC (Model-View-Controller) framework 
  • Two-way data binding 
  • Strong TypeScript integration 

Vue.js 

  • Progressive framework, incrementally adoptable 
  • Simple and flexible with a gentle learning curve 
  • Component-based structure 
  • Reactive data binding 

Back-end frameworks 

Back-end frameworks are used to build the server-side logic, database interactions, and application APIs. They handle data processing, storage, and business logic. 

Popular back-end frameworks 

Node.js 

  • JavaScript runtime built on Chrome's V8 engine 
  • Non-blocking, event-driven architecture 
  • Express is a minimal and flexible Node.js web application framework 

Laravel  

  • Elegant Syntax and Developer-Friendly 
  • Rich Ecosystem and Built-in Tools 
  • Strong Community and Comprehensive Documentation 

.NET 

  • Managed software framework 
  • Follows the "batteries-included" philosophy with many built-in features 
  • Emphasises rapid development and clean, pragmatic design 

Considerations for choosing the right frameworks 

Project requirements: 

  • Complexity and size of the project 
  • Specific functionalities and features needed 

Team expertise 

  • Existing skills and familiarity with the frameworks 
  • Availability of developers proficient in the chosen technologies 

Performance needs 

  • Response time and scalability requirements 
  • How well the framework handles concurrent users and data processing 
  • Hosting – costs, scalability  

Community and ecosystem 

  • Size and activity of the framework’s community 
  • Availability of third-party libraries, plugins, and tools 

Maintainability and flexibility 

  • Ease of maintaining and updating the codebase 
  • Ability to adapt to changing requirements 

Example combinations: 

React.js + Node.js/Express 

  • Full-stack JavaScript development 
  • High performance and scalability 
  • Large community and ecosystem 

Angular + Laravel 

  • Strong TypeScript and Java integration 
  • A comprehensive set of tools and libraries 
  • Suitable for large-scale enterprise applications 

Vue.js + Django 

  • Easy to learn and use 
  • Good for rapid development 
  • High productivity and maintainability 

How to choose the right custom software partner

There are currently around 30,000 companies in the UK that provide customer software services, from large management consultancies to companies of one or two people. Whatever the size of their business, selecting the right software developer or development team for your business is crucial, and the following steps should be taken:  

Define your requirements 

  • Scope: Clearly outline what you need. Are you looking for a complete system overhaul, a new application, or updates to existing software? 
  • Technical requirements: Do you know the technologies, platforms, and languages that your project requires? 
  • Budget and timeline: Determine your budget and the desired timeframe for project completion. 

Research and Shortlist 

  • Use platforms like Google, Clutch, Upwork, and LinkedIn to find potential developers. 
  • Recommendations: Ask for referrals from other businesses or professional networks. 
  • Portfolios: Review the portfolios of shortlisted developers to assess their experience and suitability. 

Evaluate experience and expertise: 

  • Past projects: Look for developers with experience in projects similar to your requirements. 
  • Technical skills and accreditations: Ensure they have expertise in the required technologies. 
  • Industry knowledge: A developer familiar with your industry can provide valuable insights and solutions. 

Check references and reviews: 

  • Read reviews and testimonials from previous clients. 
  • Ask for and contact references to get direct feedback on their work quality, reliability, and communication skills. 

Face-to-face meeting 

  • Assess their technical skills through interviews or coding tests. 
  • Discuss potential challenges and how they would approach them. 
  • Ensure they can communicate effectively and understand your needs. 

Evaluate communication and project management: 

  • Tools and processes: Check what project management and communication tools they use (e.g., Jira, Trello, Slack). 
  • Responsiveness: Gauge their responsiveness and availability for regular updates and meetings. 

Consider cultural fit: 

  • Work style: Ensure their work style aligns with your company culture.
  • Flexibility: Assess their willingness to adapt to changes and feedback. 

Review contracts and legal aspects: 

  • Carefully review the terms of the contract, including deliverables, timelines, payment schedules, and ownership rights. 
  • Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs): If your project involves sensitive information, ensure NDAs are in place. 

Start with a small project: 

  • If possible, start with a smaller project or a trial period to assess their capabilities before committing to a long-term engagement. 

Monitor progress and provide feedback: 

  • Maintain regular communication and progress checks. 
  • Provide constructive feedback and ensure they are responsive to any required changes. 

If a business is already working with an existing partner, People Tech’s free eBook, ‘the ultimate guide to switching software supplier’, provides useful assessment tools and resources to help evaluate existing providers and make the transition as seamless as possible.  

Speak to Propel Tech

At Propel Tech, we provide our clients with tailored solutions to address specific business and technology needs and challenges, driving innovation, efficiency, and competitive advantage. By leveraging the expertise of our expert custom software team, businesses can unlock the full potential of bespoke software to achieve their strategic objectives. Contact us to discuss your custom software development needs today.  

Author: Wil Jones, Technical Director
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