The Benefits of Custom Software Development
1. What is Custom Software
4. Case Studies
5. Questions and Answers
There can be significant benefits
realized through custom software implementation. In speaking with diverse
groups of prospective clients, we have found that in general, there is a
lack of understanding about what custom software is about, how it can
benefit a company in it's daily operations and what the costs and other
investments such as time, training, etc. might be.
1. What is Custom Software Top of page
Custom software design is not new. It used to be practical for only larger
companies due to the once high cost and complexities of bringing a custom
application to useful fruition. Over the past decade, mainly due to the
evolution of powerful data management and programming applications, many
smaller companies have realized that the cost is insignificant when
weighed against the many benefits to be derived.
Custom software is a program or group of programs that work in
conjunction with one another to manage information exactly the way your
company does business. When designing a 'custom solution', the procedures
and methodologies that exist in your business are what is used as a basis
for the program design. The software becomes a reflection of the way you
do business. A custom solution can be created to accommodate one small
routine that may need automating, or it can handle many tasks within the
company up to and including integrating every data management function
within your organization. What it does is up to you.
The advantages of implementing a system
like this can be measured first by comparing the potential system to the
way information is managed now.
Currently on a Paper System - If you are currently on a paper system, the
speed, processing and storage capabilities of the computer will provide
you with greatly improved productivity within your company. In most
cases, switching to an automated system can save huge amounts of time.
Reduced Paper Storage and Printing Requirements - By storing all of your
information on the computer you can reduce significantly or sometimes
entirely eliminate your need to store boxes of invoices, files, job
information, project information, etc. Often printing costs related to
forms and invoices can be saved because the software is able to generate
them on plain paper or duplicate forms. Large timesavings can be realized
by not having to devote manpower to creating, filing, and retrieving
paper form reports. Valuable office space can often be reclaimed by not
having to store dozens of file boxes.
Safety in Backups - This aspect applies to any computer-based solution,
but becomes even more critical in a custom application. By storing your
critical company information on the computer, the information can and
should be 'backed up' or copied onto tape cassettes regularly. A set of
these cassettes can then be kept off the company premises so if there
were ever a fire, theft, or other calamity, you would still have a copy
of your business information on tape. This is like having two copies of
every paper document that your company creates stored in different
locations, and it can all fit in the palm of your hand.
More Efficient Reporting - From the operators' level on up, reporting
information regarding current and projected operations is crucial. With a
customized software system you can design reports to produce the
information you want, the way you want to see it at the touch of a few
Hours, even days can be saved by creating custom reports that in seconds
generate the data that an employee may take hours or days to compile; and
it is available anytime you need it!
Increased Productivity - This aspect is one of the most valuable benefits
to be gained by a custom application. Put simply, it means less employee
hours spent to produce the same results. This translates into reduced
FTEs (full time employees). Think of the money that can be saved if every
employee involved in your data management functions saved just an hour a
day. Say for example that you have just 5 persons involved with these
operations (could include secretaries, file clerks, managers, even
5 x $12.50 - average hourly wage for this level of employee
=62.50 per day total saved
x 250 - actual working days in a year
=$15,625 in savings annually
Note that this example uses a very
minimal number of employees. Increase the number of employees, the
average wage, or the days worked per year and the total savings can
increase dramatically, especially in a multi-shift scenario.
Change as you Grow - A custom application can change as you do. One of
the main drawbacks to an 'off the shelf' computer application, or even a
vertical market product (one specifically tailored to your industry; a
custom solution presented in a general way) is that you still have to do
things the way the software requires you to. And when you change or
improve on a procedure or function within the business, it probably
cannot be reflected in the software. With custom software you can have
the changes in your business added into the existing system as they
occur. You will never have an outdated or obsolete software program
because it is infinitely changeable.
More Competitive Position in Marketplace - In business today, no matter
what the industry or field, there always seems to be new companies coming
along ready to go head to head with you wielding a lower price, or a
better product value offered to the marketplace. It is crucial for your
business to remain competitive and to do so means optimising the
productivity of your staff. A custom solution means increased
productivity/lower costs. Lower cost means better competitive position in
The cost of a custom application is not definable without knowing the exact
requirements of a project. Applications we have produced range anywhere
from $300 to $200,000. It just depends on the scope of the application.
If all you need is a database to keep track of client contacts, or
perhaps a simple program that tracks company vehicle scheduling, these
would probably fall in the very lowest end of the cost range. If on the
other hand, you need an application that manages 75 stamping presses,
handles operator activities and provides management with reporting on
plant processes, it could fall well into the mid to upper range.
The dollar cost of producing an application needs to be measured against
the gains to be derived. To determine the cost, you need to compare the
time you spend now at tasks against the time you would spend doing things
(data entry, filing, storage space, printing cost, etc., better
information access) from within the custom application. It is difficult
at best for us to determine what a particular company can gain by
implementing custom software without knowing the specific requirements,
but we have done studies with three companies in the past year to try an
evaluate their gains. The following examples are from actual clients and
should help you gain some perspective on the potential.
Case #1 - Travel Agency
Personal client contact manager 1 Shift - 3 agents - 5 Day Week
Time saved per day, per agent - 1 Hr.
3 Travel Agents - 5 Hours Saved Per Agent Per Week
15 Hrs x $9.60 Per Hour = $144.00 Saved Per Week
Total Project Cost = $750.00
Total Saved Per Week = $144.00
Weeks to Recover Cost - 5.2
Annual Savings After Cost Recovery = $6,738.00
Case #2 - A Large Engineering Firm
Construction Project Management Application
1 Shift - 9 engineers - 5 Day Week
Time saved per day, per engineer - 30 Min.
9 Engineers x 2.5 Hrs Saved Per Week, Per Engineer
22.5 Hrs x $35.00 Per Hour = $787.50 Saved Per Week
Total Project Cost = $4,540.00
Total Saved Per Week = $787.50
Weeks to Recover Cost - 5.7
Annual Savings After Cost Recovery = $40,950.00
As you can see by these examples, the
'break even' point on these projects was not very far down the road.
These are not 'pie in the sky' examples. These were average examples of
real clients investment/return on a project. Even in a case where a
project took six months to break even, it would, to most business owners
more than justify the expenditure. One factor not included in these
figures was the cost to train users on the new system as well as slowed
productivity during that brief period. This draw-down on the cost benefit
would be less that 3% of the total annual savings the first year only.
5. Questions and Answers Top of page
These are a few questions from past clients that we have fielded. We provide them here with the hope that
they may answer questions that you might have.
1. I already use a good computer application by company XYZ. What good will it do me to switch to a custom solution?
Answer: Company XYZ had a great idea for a software application
when they created it, but unless it was a custom solution (which it was
not if others could purchase the same package off the shelf), they
probably did not create it with your company in mind. Since it is
impossible to build a computer application to be all things to all
companies in a specific industry or field, they created it 'generic'
enough to do most things that would be required fairly well. I will admit
that in many cases this is enough for a business to survive and grow just
fine. But if you find yourself wishing that the software could do things
that it cannot do, the solution becomes clear.
2. If your company writes a program for me, would I always need your
help to maintain, support, and make changes that I might want in the
Answer: Once an application has been developed, fully tested and
debugged, there is little or no need for our presence except in the event
of changes you may require. If we are fortunate enough to call you our
client, be assured that we will do our best to provide for your needs
over time. If however, you should require another company to service or
work on your program, or if you ever decide just do it 'in house' with a
staff developer, this is very workable. Our software is currently
developed under Microsoft Visual Basic, Access and SQL as well as some
integrated products, Excel, Word, Outlook, Project and Viso.
Microsoft, the largest software manufacturer in the world, supports these
products and there are other companies that provide services similar to
our own. So no, you are not 'tied to us' in any way.
3. How can I determine if a custom solution is right for my company?
Answer: The custom software solution is not right for everyone.
Many organizations can get by just fine with 'off the shelf'
applications. A custom solution becomes practical when you realize that
there are many functions or even one important function within your
organization that needs to be automated, but has not been due to lack of
the proper software to perform the task. Sit down and create a list
similar to the case examples cited above. They are of course condensed
versions of the actual data used to create them, but your task is to
identify areas that could possibly be improved though use of a custom
application. Think of all those times you thought 'I wish that the
computer could do this', and write them down. Then try to value those
functions in terms of time spent now, as opposed to what time might be
spent under the custom application. This last comparison may be difficult
for you with knowing how exactly we would make things work within the
application itself, but development companies will usually be happy to
assist you with this process. Most simple analysis are at no cost. Those
that are more complex can sometimes carry a fee, depending on the vendor.
Our policy is to take the cost of a complex analysis off the contract
price, should a client go ahead with the project.
4. What is the process of creating an application like? And what time
will it require of my staff and employees?
Answer: The actual processes that take place are as follows:
Design Development - Developer works with your staff in determining
exactly what program(s) will be required to do, reports that will be
needed, system configuration (i.e. networkable, etc.), and in general
just define the project.
Formal Quote - Developer presents you with a formal quote on the project,
and on approval, will begin the work.
Design Implementation - Further detailed work is done on the design
concepts, as we begin to generate screens and things that you approve on
an incremental basis so that both parties are both confident that the
project is 'on track' with regard to design.
Testing and Debugging - Once the application has been written and is in
place, you begin to learn how to use it (in a test mode) while at the
same time 'debugging' it with the developer. 'Debugging' is a term used
in programming for finding and correcting the flaws.
Real Time Monitoring - Once the program is in actual use, we monitor
operations to make sure that everything is functioning correctly.
Obviously with a smaller project, all of these steps may not be required,
but they are presented to give you an idea of the process itself.
5. What language do you use to develop your programs?
Answer: Different developers use different programming languages
to produce custom applications. We are presently developing all of our
software in Visual Basic, Access and SQL For Windows. These products are
a database development language produced and supported by The Microsoft
Corp., the largest and most successful software manufacturer of all time.
They offer an immense amount of flexibility as well as the ability to tie
into other programming languages as well as applications if required. The
Microsoft products are acknowledged by most impartial industry analysts,
as being the premier leading edge product among it's peers.
6. Do I have to upgrade my computer systems to accommodate a custom
Answer: This depends of course on the equipment that you are using
now. In general, a Pentium with 1Gb of RAM will suffice for many windows
based applications, although you could probably get by with 512Mb. Hard
drive space available to store the custom application could range
anywhere from 2 to 30 MB, depending on the size and scope of the
7. What about training our personnel on how to use the program?
Answer: During the development phase of the project, we work one
on one with you personnel in creating and debugging the application
itself. Through this process those involve usually acquire a reasonably
good working knowledge of the program. At the conclusion of the project
we then fill in the gaps. Documentation, or a user's manual can also be
produced, when requested. We find about 50 % of companies having their
own software developed choose to create the user's manual in house It is
one area that can be used to help reduce the overall up front development
8. What kinds of business applications does your company develop?
Answer: Pretty much any type of business can be addressed. We are
obviously not experts in every area of business, but on those
applications that have very unique, industry specific aspects, we have
access to a wealth of consultants in any particular area that assist us
with special problems. We have developed applications in the following
and many others...
One of the services our company offers is an initial consultation at no
cost or obligation to you whatsoever. We will come to your site or speak
with you by phone to discuss the issues above with you within the context
of your operation. By the end of this consultation you will have a pretty
good idea about whether a custom solution is right for you. We are very
straightforward about this, in that if we feel a custom design is not
necessary for your company we will tell you honestly. We may recommend an
existing software package made by another company, or other improvements
to your data management procedures that could save you money.