Why Custom Software Development Services Create the Best IT Solutions
8 min read
A problem that businesses all over the country face time and time again is the fact that their processes do not align with the capabilities of off-the-shelf software available to businesses in the marketplace. To enhance a company’s productivity and ensure success in the future, it is important the business develops its own web applications that exactly match its business process. To achieve this goal, businesses should invest in custom software development services. Partnering with a custom software development company is step one to success.
What is Custom Software Development?
All businesses have unique and specific needs. They deal with important tasks on a regular basis, yet many of these are repetitive, menial, and time-consuming. Luckily, many of them are prime candidates for business process automation. With custom software development, a unique application can be created that is mapped precisely to the process or need in question. Conversely, off-the-shelf software does not consider one business' needs but instead provides a broad, generalized, set of features that are meant to satisfy the needs of all businesses generally. Because it’s so generalized and broad, off-the-shelf software often contains a myriad of other features that most businesses will never in practice utilize. This "bloat-ware" is ineffective from a cost perspective and can be cumbersome to someone attempting to learn the software for the first time.
One of the main reasons why custom software development is so critical is because no two organizations are created in quite the same way. If you were to examine your nearest competitor, you'd probably be looking at a very different business than your own. This despite the fact that you are doing essentially the same thing, your process and value proposition would be different. Likewise, if everyone were using the same off-the-shelf shelf technology, the playing field would essentially be equal. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to gain a legitimate competitive advantage. Custom software development helps to address all of these issues, all at the exact same time.
The Custom Software Development Process
Again, all businesses are unique onto themselves. By its very nature, the same will be true of the custom software development process. Truly, there is no "one correct way" to get the job done. Having said that, there are a few essential things that all organizations should do. These include, but not are limited to, the following:
1. Develop project requirements
You can't set out on a road trip if you don't have a map. Everyone involved must know what you are hoping to accomplish and why it is so important before the project begins in earnest. The user needs should be identified by a Business Analyst and documented in a requirements document.
2. Next, lay down the foundation of the system and create the database
Once all key objectives have been decided upon, a framework can be developed upon which all future efforts will be built. This will make it easier to both maintain essential legacy functionality, as well as to more organically map processes to the new system. A database architect can design a SQL Server database that captures all of the data identified by the business analyst in the requirements document. If a database is not designed correctly in the beginning it can lead to numerous problems such as data duplication, inefficient slow processing of queries and desired reports that cannot be produced.
3. Programmers should create one web page or functional area at a time
Rather than creating one monolithic application in a technology such as ASP.NET where all features are tied together all at once, the core elements of the web development project can be created separately. This allows the workload to be distributed across several team members. That way, if testing is needed, or something should go wrong with one, it won't negatively affect the rest of the items on the to do list. Also, this fits well with an Agile Development Methodology of breaking a large project into bite size chunks (also know as sprints).
4. User testing and documenting customer feedback
Custom software development services ultimately won't do any good if they don't adequately support end users. Therefore, testing should happen early and often to help improve the user experience (also referred to as UX). Along the same lines, user feedback should be solicited throughout this process to determine which of your efforts are working and more importantly which ones are not.
5. Refinement of the process flow based on user feedback
Often times custom software development is the perfect opportunity to take an older and less efficient process or even a legacy application and turn it into something more modern and refined. Something that used to take ten steps to complete may now only require four. These are opportunities that should be capitalized on for cost savings among other benefits.
6. Deployment and more user testing
Once the web application development work has been completed, the solution can begin to be rolled out to end users. However, you won't be deploying to the entire user base all at once. Instead, you'll pick small segments of users and solicit their feedback for further improvement. Then, the rollout will widen until to include more users in different roles.
7. Go live
Once the new solution is officially live, developers will have a chance to see how people interact with it in a real-world environment. By monitoring user behavior, it could uncover additional opportunities for improvement. You should continue to elicit user feedback because even the most well designed and tested systems will have minor usability flaws that no one anticipated.
8. Maintenance and support
Just because an application is live, however, doesn't mean a web application development company's job is done. They will continue to support both the application and the business with regular maintenance, user support, necessary upgrades, and improvements for the foreseeable future.
Depending on the type of organization you are running or even your industry, some of these factors may be more important than others. As mentioned, the specifics of the process will also likely change. However, if you are new to the world of custom software development and are not quite sure where to begin, the above is a good roadmap to follow.
What Does Custom Software Development Cost?
One of the most important things to understand about this entire process is that there is no one specific list price for custom software development. It’s like asking, “How much does a house cost?” What you will pay will ultimately be dictated not only by what you're trying to accomplish, but by the ultimate scope of your project. Some of the steps you can take to help come up with an accurate estimate at the beginning of the project include:
- Set goals. Setting both goals and a scope for the project as early on as possible is critical. Many a software development project has gone way over budget because it wasn’t scoped correctly.
- Include Stakeholders. Schedule several meetings with all key stakeholders throughout the project who, along with a business analyst, will work together to capture and document the needs of the organization.
- Create Requirements. Develop a comprehensive, functional requirements specification that includes screen mockups of what the eventual solution will look like. Also included will be an overview of the business rules and a full description of what the application is supposed to do and why it is important.
- Estimate all sub tasks. A spreadsheet will also need to be created that contains a list of the major components necessary for the web application development to be a success. It should contain a line item for each page, subsystem, process defined in the requirements document. Then give a best guess estimate for the number of hours to complete each task.
- Add in Additional time. Custom software development projects don’t involve just coding. There are other necessary activities in a business software development endeavor that also take up time. Failure to account for these will result in an estimate that is too low. These additional activities include things like requirements gathering and specification writing, communications and meetings, Q/A testing, bug fixing and refinement, project management, deployment and some percentage of time for unknowns (typically 10%).
At the end of this process, all of the time values will be summed up and multiplied by the billing rate of the outsourced software development team - which is how you get a reasonably accurate estimate of what the project will cost.
If the outsourced team just gives you a dollar figure and does not follow the process outlined above, then they haven’t done their homework, they are not transparent, and you are most likely going to have a failed software project. One of two things will happen: 1) You will end up paying too much because they are just throwing out a high number and hope to haggle with you or 2) They will grossly under bid the project and get in over their head. That’s not good for them and not good for you. So often we have taken over projects where the previous development team went for months without getting paid because they underestimated the project then they just quit leaving the client hanging. Here at Keene Systems, we follow the above estimation strategy, and it works exceptionally well. I feel the extra transparency with the client leads to a better estimate. And if it exceeds the client’s current budget, it can be easily broken into phases and spread over a longer period, focusing on the most important pieces first.
The Benefits of Outsourcing Custom Software Development
All told, there are a wide array of benefits to outsourcing custom software development that cannot be ignored. Things like:
- Automation. There are an opportunities to automate a business process. This frees up the valuable time of your internal employees to focus on matters that truly need them.
- Scalability. Having an outsourced Virtual Scalable IT Department allows you to be flexible, agile and efficient. This allows you to respond to sudden changes in the market faster than ever.
- Application Evolution. This means that the application itself can continue to grow and evolve as your business does the same.
- Significant cost savings. You don't have to worry about constantly maintaining off the shelf software and the hidden costs of off the shelf software.
- Greater security. Custom software can be built with your own unique risk profile in mind.
- Integration. A lot of off the shelf web applications don't allow application integration simply because they were never designed to in the first place. If you are in control of the code, as is the case with custom software development, you can integrate with anything.
- Improved productivity. By breaking down those data silos, everyone has access to all important information at all times.
- Exchange data with entities outside of the company. Not only can you integrate with systems within your company but also external entities such as vendors and customers. This can be a great way to improve the quality of the experience you're able to offer to your clients through data sharing.
- Improved user acceptance. There is greater user acceptance of a new corporate web application if the employees were included in the design process. Employees finally feel like they have access to the tools needed to do their jobs.
- Better collaboration between employees. Better collaboration almost always equates to higher productivity, which can only help but improve the quality of work as well.
- Allowing customers to interact in the process flow. Building custom client portals as part of the web application to allow clients to interact directly with a system greatly improves the efficiency of the overall process flow. This allows them to give their input in real time and to input / transfer data through electronic means instead of by a manual paper process and snail mail.
- Better support and maintenance of the application. It's simply far easier and less expensive to support and maintain a piece of software that has been built from scratch.
- Gives you a competitive advantage. Suddenly, you have access to a resource your competitors don't and that is absolutely the type of environment where innovation thrives.
Outsource or Develop Your Web Application Internally?
When it comes to the decision as to whether or not to outsource your web development to a high-performance team or develop your application internally, finding the right external software development partner is almost always the way to go. It's very likely you'll be able to find a team that has all the skills needed to make the project a success. A development partner will allow you to hit the ground running.
Finding the Right Software Development Company
The process of finding the right software development company involves looking for an organization that has the integrity and resources needed to make your vision for your application a reality. They should have the web technology expertise necessary to get the job done and should be open and honest collaborators in every sense of the term. They should strive to understand and align with all of your core business values. Also, the IT consulting firm should have a diversity of roles to handle all aspects of your web application development project. They should have not only have front end and back end programmers but also project managers, business analysts, database architects, user interface designers, and user experience designers.
In the end, most companies need a web development agency that they can work with to outsource all of their custom software development needs. Small organizations in particular with no IT departments regularly rely on these software development partners because the cost of hiring a team of IT employees is a cost they cannot bear. By finding the right software application development company - one that understands what you're trying to do and why it's so important - you can enjoy all of the benefits of this outsourcing process with as few of the potential downsides as possible.
To learn more about improving your business efficiency, please download the eBook titled "How to Automate Business Process in 7 Smart Steps."