Why ‘off-the-shelf’ products make sense

Adopting a pre-existing solution to manage your organisation’s data can have many benefits over building your own system from scratch. Here we list five advantages of using an off-the-shelf product:

1. Faster to implement. A pre-existing product can be quick to get up-and-running, compared to the time required to design and develop a brand new system from the ground up. If ‘out-of-the-box’ functionality does not fully meet your requirements, a good supplier should be willing to develop customised features for you, and may not even charge for these if they will benefit the product as a whole. Remember: it’s a lot easier to request functionality as enhancements to something you can see working in front of you than it is to start from a ‘blank page’.

2. Less overall cost. Whilst not all off-the-shelf products carry a small price tag or low subscription charge, building your own system can work out to be more expensive when all costs from initial design to final implementation are taken into account. Should your new system take a long time to finish, there is also an opportunity cost: whilst staff are waiting for it to be completed, they are not able to take full advantage of their data, and other key projects may also be on hold. In contrast, a product-based solution will often include extras for free, such as project management, initial setup, and user training.

3. Tried and tested. Products that are actively in use and have an existing list of happy clients are likely to be relatively stable and bug-free. When developing a new system from scratch, nothing can be taken for granted, and extremely thorough testing will be needed to ensure that functionality works as expected, the system is secure and stable, and that all the numbers add up. Even when testing is complete, there is still more risk of unexpected issues emerging than with a system that has a proven track record over a number of years.

4. Training & documentation. An ‘off-the-shelf’ product is likely to come complete with written documentation, and comprehensive user training options are normally offered. With a home-grown development, there is a risk that documentation and training will be left to the end of the project, and may then be neglected due to time or budgetary constraints. As a result, the only group who fully understand the system may be its developers, leaving the intended audience unable to take full advantage of it.

5. Ongoing development. In order to keep ahead of the competition, off-the-shelf products have development roadmaps driven both by internal priorities and requests from their clients, and are continually being enhanced with new features. A good supplier will pass these on to you at no charge, meaning that your system will continue to grow and improve over time. In contrast, development on a home-grown system may be frozen following implementation, as the development team focus on other projects until budget is secured and requirements written for ‘Phase 2’.

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