It’s hard to walk a block these days without encountering the myriad off-the-shelf business software solutions that claim to be THE solution that every business needs. “Stay current with technology and user expectations…” “Enable more efficient operations…” Enterprise software automates things like ERP, CRM, billing, marketing, distribution, and planning. Within the headings of these many systems are scores of specialized software companies, each claiming relevance due to adherence to customer classes based on revenue, specialized industry vertical, or nuances of workflow that herd companies into generalized holding pens.

The custom software alternative to deployment of off-the-shelf software had been a luxury reserved for the largest and most profitable enterprises for one key reason. Cost… The financial and time-to-market costs of deploying custom software made it a strategy for very few, and therefore led businesses straight into the arms of sales representatives of off-the-shelf software companies.

Over many years, the economics of enterprise software were tipped in favor of the off-the-shelf software providers, but that tide has now changed. Stemming from fundamental shifts in business behavior as well as the tools and techniques employed to develop custom software.

Budget allocation for off-the-shelf
Figure 1 – Budget allocation for off-the-shelf

Business today is faster and more complex than ever. And off-the-shelf software solutions are attempting to mass-customize their offerings. Great reliance, at great cost, is placed on corporate teams to select the right solution from a crowded field of similar systems where an 80% fit is regarded as a direct match. Resources are being spent on implementing software in a way that it is configured to match a business need. See Figure 1. Mismatches are either shoe-horned into production through iterative processes of compromise often termed “re-training.” When that’s not an option, the one-off workflow is steered toward customization. Customization may simply introduce custom scripting to fix the user interaction or workflow behavior. Alternatively, it may introduce an added relationship with a third party’s software with a side requirement of integration middleware.

In the technology space, rapid pace of innovation has equally impacted the Software Application Development tools used to deliver on these expectations. The fundamental process of developing software applications has experienced quantum leaps enabling quality, efficiency, flexibility, resiliency, and interoperability. The software being produced today is relegating the software produced ten years ago to the scrap heap for many reasons.

We’ve experienced significant evolution and continuous improvement of the ecosystem of application development tools and frameworks utilized to produce software. The impetus for the change is rooted with “Web 2.0” that introduced new standards of software accessibility, simplicity, distribution, participation, content, and behavior. These new standards normalized the expectation that software must run on any device, and access data from a cloud at any time from any place. Standards now emphasized self-service to data that banished the acceptance of data latency. These are the underpinnings of “Digital Transformation.”

Budget allocation for custom
Figure 2 – Budget allocation for custom

Advancement in application development tools and frameworks, such as Bootstrap, Spring and Ember, isolate and commoditize the elements of software that are essential, but removed from the value stream that the system itself provides. This enables development resources to be 100% focused on business workflows and efficiency that further enable a business to differentiate competitively through great software. See Figure 2. The non-value added, but essential, elements of software that control variables like data movement, navigation, ultra-high security, and interoperability previously consumed great programming resources. Today, they are mostly handled behind the scenes through automation. Development personnel are no longer excessively burdened by essential activities that add cost but not value.

The result is that Custom Application Development firms are equipped to deliver advanced systems that are superior to off-the-shelf alternatives, with less risk, expense, and lead-time.

The year is 2018.