Out-of-Box vs. Custom Software: Which is Best for You?

Christine Germeroth
Christine Germeroth

When you want to buy a new piece of furniture, say a bookshelf for example, it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll call up a carpenter to have one handcrafted. More than likely, you’ll go to your nearest Ikea and buy the one that most closely matches the rest of your furniture. It’s easier and more convenient (as long as you follow the instructions and don’t go rogue with the nuts and washers). 

But some things are just better when they’re made from scratch, exactly the way you want them. Your Ikea bookshelf will probably suit you just fine, but maybe the color of the wood is slightly different from your desk, or maybe you wish it had an extra shelf. Out-of-box purchases frequently come with compromises. 

The same logic can be applied to software. Let’s say your company needs a new intranet. Should you choose existing software and make some compromises, or opt for a custom intranet that may take longer to build and implement? Here are some factors to consider when deciding between existing software and a custom solution. 


Cost is likely an important factor in your decision making process. An out-of-box solution may tempt you with a lower price tag from the start. Many options are available on a subscription basis with the initial setup assistance and ongoing support baked into the cost. The company may also work with you to get the software up and running. All of these things sound like great perks. 

The first year’s cost may not seem like much, but multiply that by the number of years you intend to use the software. You may find that the long-term expense adds up quickly, even surpassing the cost of a custom solution. A custom solution also means no licensing fees. Consider your budget and how all of this factors in. 


Part of your decision making process will, of course, include shopping around to find the out-of-box solution that is the best fit for your organization’s needs. Although you may find something that feels like a pretty good fit, it’s likely that it will come with some compromises. Maybe your employees find certain features confusing, or uploading files is overly complicated. This could result in frustrated staff, wasted time, and wasted money.  

A custom solution could build out the features that you like, and even add others that aren’t available in an out-of-box solution. Involve all of your stakeholders to consider their perspectives and workflows, and to meet their needs and make them more efficient. Design the system, navigation, features, and overall user experience based on your individual business needs. This will ensure that you have a system for the long-term that supports your employees by helping them solve problems, achieve goals, and work efficiently.


Consider how you’ll want to use this software in the future. Will the out-of-box solution that you’re considering scale with your business goals? 

A custom solution can act as a framework that you can build upon as your needs change. Add new features and customizations when you need them, or change certain aspects as your organization shifts and grows.


Existing software is easier to maintain because you won’t have much maintenance responsibility. Once the software is set up, the proprietary company will generally release updates when necessary. You can take a hands off approach to long-term software support and updates.

The vendor that builds your custom solution could be a partner for the long-term too. Look for a vendor that will continue to support you after the initial work is complete. They’ll place greater importance on customer service and can address any needs that arise for new features, overall scalability, and security updates. 

Choose Your Solution 

The speed and convenience of an out-of-box solution may initially win you over. Existing software could be up and running for your organization within a few days or weeks. The proprietary company is also responsible for all maintenance and security updates, leaving you free to worry about other parts of your business. 

But a custom solution is fully customizable and will always save you money in the long-run. Although it may take a few months for your selected vendor to build, you’ll get all the features and functionality that your organization needs to be more efficient, without the endless subscription fees. Whether you decide to buy or build, be sure to choose a company that understands your needs.


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