Archive for the ‘mainstream software’ Category

Custom Technology or Packaged Solution – which path should I take?

March 14th, 2021 by Heather Maloney

Contactpoint has always operated in the custom technology space, helping our clients with ideas for unique technology solutions to marketplace challenges, to make those ideas a reality. We are currently in the middle of building some significant pieces of custom tech, and we have just finished the complete re-build of a custom solution for Deaths and Funerals (we built the previous version of the solution many years ago, and the requirements had changed significantly).

However, not all of our work involves custom technology, and as much as possible we utilise pre-existing, proven technology and components to reduce the cost of custom development and ongoing maintenance. In addition, we are currently assisting several long term clients to move away from their own custom technology which we built for them, over to a packaged (aka ‘off-the-shelf’ solution). At the time when we built their original solution, that was the right option.

We recently discarded a custom technology that we had built for ourselves over many years in favour of a packaged solution – that technology is our project management software. On the other hand, we continue to support and enhance another custom technology solutionEnudge – which we built to service a very particular need in the marketplace, and of course we continue to use it for ourselves. You are probably reading this blog because we emailed you about it using Enudge.

All of the above begs the question: when should a business choose to develop a custom technology solution, and when should they choose a packaged solution?

To answer that question, I will take you through the advantages and disadvantages of custom technology.

Advantages of Custom Technology

Own the space
Creating your own custom technology, if successful, can allow you to be the dominant player in a particular market; that’s what I mean by owning the space. Your solution is unique to the particular problem you are solving, allowing you to do it better than your competitors, and therefore to stand out from your competitors. If you are using a packaged solution purpose built for your industry, then it will not be a factor in your market differentiation … you will have to look elsewhere for uniqueness.

Innovate
Most likely you will choose to build a custom solution because there’s nothing on the market that does exactly what you want – you want to innovate compared to what is already available because you have worked out a way to do it better, to achieve better business outcomes and better results for your customers.

Having control of the solution you are using gives you the opportunity to continue to innovate. Many of the packaged solutions that are available for your purchase were originally developed by a business who wanted to operate better, and then they realised that the solution they had made had widespread appeal for other businesses, so they pivoted (or spun off) into a software company instead of their original business.

Competitive Advantage
Innovating / improving the standard way things are done can give you a competitive advantage. Perhaps you can operate cheaper than your competitors, allowing you to perform the same service for a lower cost, and still achieve the same level of profit, or you can achieve a better / quicker result at the same price.

Where most businesses in a particular industry are using the same processes and technology solutions, then you can’t gain a competitive advantage from your technology.

A warning though: when your uniqueness in the marketplace is largely delivered through your software solution, you need to keep on your toes as many software solutions which just involve what is known in the industry as CRUD operations (create, read, update and delete) are relatively easy for a competitor to copy. In this situation, continually innovating will be essential to keep you ahead of your competitors.

Packaged solutions also continue to innovate, but every business using that solution will gain access to the same innovation at the same time. You might have the opportunity to pitch an innovation to the packaged software vendor, but they will have a very long list of planned features – whether your suggestion is ever implemented will be unknown. And if they do, all your competitors using the solution receive the advantage as well.

Agility in the Marketplace
The economic and legislative landscape in which you operate will change over time. Customer behaviour will change with fads and trends. If you control your technology, and if you have the funds, you can be the first to take advantage of a new opportunity that arises as the result of a new trend.

Reliability into the future
Finally, and something I expect businesses are thinking less and less about that the moment because of the largescale move to cloud technologies which force you to rely on the big tech companies, owning the technology, and having control over it’s future, gives you certainty for the future operation of your organisation.

I don’t expect the big tech companies to disappear anytime soon. However, what about the packaged solution you are using for, say, your project management. What would be the business impact of your organisation if that company decided to sell or close down? This is a factor you need to consider when choosing a packaged solution, and is largely resolved by building your own.

Disadvantages of Custom Technology

Expense
There’s no getting around it; building your own software, even if you hired a teams of designers and developers directly, will cost considerably more than buying a packaged solution.

Nearly all software runs on hardware and/or platforms that are built and managed by other businesses. That means that your custom built software solution will need to be continually maintained in order to ensure it will run on newer hardware, and will continue to operate correctly when the platform is updated including web browsers (where your software is run through a browser).

When you are the only organisation using your software you may not be able to achieve the economy of scale that a packaged solution can. Selling the one solution to a large number of companies, is a way to amortise the cost of the development and ongoing maintenance.

Organisations for whom we build custom software will often have the potential to apply their custom software to multiple businesses, or to a franchise, or are indeed intending to have a significant share of a large market.

An Ongoing Project

I’ve already touched on this under the topic of Expense, however, the other disadvantage of custom software is that you can’t just build it, and then enjoy using it. You have to be committed to the software over the long term. You have to be willing to dedicate time and effort to maintaining the solution to keep the benefits you have gained from your investment – this time and effort may be a distraction from your core business.

As a minimum, your software will need to be maintained to continue to work with new versions of the hardware and/or platforms upon which the software is running. You will need a good software partner (like us!) to continue to maintain and support your solution on an ongoing basis.

If you have moved into the business of delivering a software solution to other organisations, then you need to continue to innovate in order to stay at the top of the list of solutions. Similarly, if your technology solution is your competitive advantage, you will want to focus on ongoing improvements to keep your competitors at bay.

In conclusion …

By way of summary, the advantages are all about opportunity, and the disadvantages all relate to investment (time and money).

It is my view that you should embark on creating custom technology when both of the following are true:

  1. There is no well-supported packaged solution that fulfils all your most important requirements or complete ownership of the solution is vital for your competitive advantage, and
  2. You have the ability to fund not only the initial development, but also ongoing maintenance and enhancements. This might include revenue generated from the sale of the solution, if that’s part of your strategy, or it might be that your solution will reduce your costs, or enable you to expand into new markets without increasing your costs.

Where our clients are now moving away from their own custom technology to a packaged solution, it is because there is now available sufficiently robust solutions to meet their key requirements, and / or they no longer have a good enough reason to maintain their own solution. In addition their custom solution no longer provides a competitive advantage and is not their core differentiation in the marketplace. It may also be too expensive to maintain, or too distracting from their core business.

There is one other alternative that should also be considered for creating a custom technology solution: using a configurable platform, instead of building from scratch. A platform that enables you to combine components which, together with an underlying data store and workflow rules, creates your required technology. Often these platforms are low code or no code solutions, providing drag and drop user interfaces to create the system. There are a myriad models for such solutions. WordPress is a kind of this solution, whereby you can add plugins to your existing WordPress website to achieve additional functionality often without needing to write any code. Hosted form builders, including Microsoft’s Sharepoint combined with Power Automate and Power Apps, is another example applicable to organisations using Office365.

Cloud platforms such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Computing are also helping the development of custom software solutions more accessible to small business via the pre-built components they provide in their cloud platforms – we make use of these for many of our clients to reduce the cost of development of custom solutions.

Making the right choice of platform on which to build your custom technology solution, or choosing the right packaged solution, is a very important decision. Making the wrong decision can be very costly, either in opportunity and position in the marketplace, or in dollar terms. If you would like to discuss your idea for custom technology, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are invested in your success, whether that’s pointing you to a packaged solution or helping you create the technology to underpin your invention.

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Put some fun into your marketing with QR Codes

April 12th, 2011 by Heather Maloney

You may have noticed some strange looking symbols in your travels recently, a bit like the image on the right. These are called QR codes (2 dimensional barcodes), and can hold a great deal more information than your average barcode, and can be read by a smart phone!

Go on… if you have a smart phone, download a QR Code reader app (see links below), and then read in the code on the right. So… what do you call a dog that shreds things? [you have to view the QR code to get the answer]

How can you utilise QR codes for marketing your business? There are a plethora of articles online giving many different suggestions. Thinking about our clients, we can see the QR Codes being used as follows:

Added to advertising boards for properties, to allow the person driving past the property to get all the details about it on their smart phone including contact details for the real estate agent.
Included in emails, to provide a special offer to use when you walk into the store.
Added to any printed material to provide your contact details in the form of a vcard (used within Outlook Contacts)
An in-store loyalty program – the cafe downstairs from our office is using QR codes in this manner.
Here are some other useful articles on the topic of QR Codes:

13 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes for Marketing
Free online tool to generate a QR Code | Another online QR Code generator
iPhone App to scan a QR Code
Android App to scan a QR Code

Have you used a QR Code yet? Tell us about your experience by commenting below.

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What’s in Microsoft Windows 7 Operating System?

October 25th, 2009 by Heather Maloney

Microsoft launched Windows 7, the new 64 bit operating system, on October 22nd. Windows 7 is said to provide:

  • a faster operating system, particularly if you have 4Gb of RAM or more on your computer; Windows 7 will actually enable to you utilise the extra RAM
  • easier search for files and emails, straight from the Start button
  • pin and jump lists to help you quickly access programs and files you use most often
  • aero snap feature that allows you to easily put two windows side by side to compare their contents
  • aero peek feature allowing you to see what’s on the desktop without minimising everything; the open windows are made transparent. Similarly an aero shake feature, to minimise all the windows and then bring them all back again to their previous position by shaking a window from side to side
  • a stronger firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware solution
  • tools for creating and sharing videos on YouTube

In addition, Windows 7 takes up 1/2 the room on your hard disk compared to Windows Vista. Developers and manufacturers are expected to be interested in Windows 7 because of the many new capabilities it provides, including touchscreen support. For more information you might like to read the Top 10 reasons to buy Windows 7 put together by Microsoft. In addition, Microsoft already has a new section of it’s website dedicated to Windows 7.

Unfortunately, you can’t upgrade directly from Windows XP to Windows 7, so if you’re like me you would need to do a fresh installation of Windows 7, which will probably give you a better result anyhow. You could of course temporarily upgrade to Vista, and then upgrade to Windows 7.

Some analysts are suggesting that this could be Microsoft’s last operating system, with the prospect of operating-system-less computers becoming more likely. Perhaps the question should be, will Google be successful in bringing out their Google Chrome operating system to replace the heavy-weight Windows operating system? You might like to read Google’s vision for their light-weight operating system.

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