As a business grows and evolves, so do its technology needs. If your organization has outgrown its existing systems and is considering commissioning custom software to solve challenges and streamline operations in the front office, back office, or both, the job of choosing the right partner can be daunting, to say the least. There are countless custom software development companies on the market. How do you differentiate one from the next? And how do you know if you’re making the right choice? We’ll walk through all of that in this article, equipping you with the information you need to make a confident, informed decision.
Signs Your Organization Needs Custom Software
But before we go into choosing a custom software developer, let’s answer one other question: does your organization really need custom software? As much as we would like every company in the entire world to be a potential client, the reality is that custom software isn’t always the best choice for every business. For example, a small, cash-strapped startup looking for a CRM is likely better off subscribing to HubSpot than reinventing the wheel by commissioning a brand new platform. But for many organizations, custom software is the best fit. Here are signs that, if you’re thinking bespoke, you’re on the right track:
- You’re looking for complex functionality or industry-specific solutions that you’re struggling to find in off-the-shelf software.
- You want flexibility to upgrade your software however you want, whenever you want. Unlike readymade software, which is beholden to the vendor for mass updates, custom software can grow and change with your business.
- You want to own your software. Whether you’re thinking of a white-label application you’ll sell to other businesses or an in-house-only solution that you’ll be able to list as an asset on your balance sheet, custom software belongs entirely to the company that commissioned it.
- You have the funds to see a custom project through to completion. Though in many cases the overall costs are lower and the ROIs are higher with custom software, the reality is that building new costs more upfront than buying readymade.
- You have the time to dedicate. There are processes in software development that allow developers to generate working modules quickly, but launching a fully-loaded custom software solution takes time, which a business may or may not have.
Advantages of Working with a Software Development Company
Not quite sold on building over buying? In comparison to buying off-the-shelf solutions, here are some of the advantages a custom software developer can bring to the table:
- Customization and Scale: One of the biggest pros of building your own custom software solution is that it will include all the functionality you need to operate in exactly the ways you need it to. The software you end up with will be tailored to your unique business model and challenges. Total control over the development also allows you to add any new features when needed so that your business can continue to run like a well-oiled machine. You can start with a prototype and grow the software as your revenues grow. Additionally, your employees will be able to give their feedback on what features are essential to streamline their workflows.
- Greater control: As the sole owner of the solution, you will have full control over user options, security measures, and system updates. Plus, complete ownership gives you the option to market the product, itself, offering your software as a service down the line.
- Competitive edge: With a custom software solution, you can gain a competitive advantage by leveraging the most efficient, connected, and scalable technology, helping your business get ahead of the game in your industry. Your software can differentiate your business from others in the crowded marketplace.
- Guaranteed integration: Building your own solution means you can ensure seamless integration with any existing software, tools, and processes already in use.
If the signs and advantages in these last two sections resonate with you, congratulations! Your business is a great candidate for custom software. Read on to learn how to find the perfect vendor for your organization.
What to Look for when Researching Top Software Companies
Building a custom software application is a significant investment, and selecting your vendor is a critical first step. The right software development company is a true technology partner for your organization, working to understand your business inside and out, including current processes, goals, and challenges, and then collaborating with you to design a software application that fits every need perfectly.
You’ll want to interview several potential partners to ensure you’re making the right choice, but be strategic about who you interview. Sending out dozens of requests for proposals without much consideration for who’s on your list will yield worse results than collecting quotes from just a few highly promising candidates.
So before you start sending RFPs, be sure to do your due diligence. You’ll be able to eliminate some options simply by looking at their websites, case studies, and reviews. Here are a few red and green flags to look for:
- Red flag:Promising the lowest prices or fastest delivery times. Unscrupulous vendors are liable to lowball one or both of these metrics in order to win bids, leading to surprise costs and delays down the road.
- Green flag: Industry expertise. While you obviously want a vendor who’s an expert in software development, you also want one who has some knowledge about your industry. A partner that’s able to learn about your businesses will be able to collaborate more fully than one that only wants to code.
- Red flag: Promoting certain technologies. Some vendors are resellers of—or otherwise beholden to—specific platforms, frameworks, or technologies. This means that, when it comes to choosing the perfect stack for your project, their options will be limited. Look, instead, for a technology agnostic vendor with expertise in a wide range of technologies.
- Green flag: Robust case studies and glowing testimonials. As with any major hire, with software development companies, the proof is in the pudding. Do their case studies indicate they have the experience and expertise you need? Do testimonials indicate happy customers?
Based on your initial research, narrow your list to five or six firms from whom to request proposals. A quality vendor will provide details about functionality, timeline, development milestones, and more, along with advice that’s specific to your case. Look for information about these elements in the proposal:
- Potential technology choice
- Development phases
- Risk management
All this information will help you see the bigger picture and make an informed decision. When an estimate includes little more than the final cost, that’s a sign not to take that vendor seriously.
Questions to Ask Potential Vendors
Once you’ve reviewed five or six firms’ proposals, narrow your short list down to two or three solid options and set up meetings with those vendors. Here are some topics to cover in these meetings as you suss out whether each vendor can meet your company’s needs:
- Previous work: Have they ever worked on similar projects to yours?
- Capacity: Do they have enough developers available for your project? If not, how long will it take them to put together a team? And what will that team look like in terms of seniority and expertise?
- Communication: How does a candidate company prefer to communicate with clients during the course of a project? Will you receive regular updates? Have plenty of opportunities to provide feedback? Will there be a dedicated point of contact, or will you be fighting your way through a customer service maze for answers to every question?
- Development approach: While every project is different, a good software developer will have a standard approach that includes discovery, design, development, quality control, and implementation and maintenance. Ask candidates to walk you through what to expect in each phase of that project.
- Quality control: What systems does the vendor have in place to be sure the final product meets specifications and functions as it should? (Hint: quality control should be undertaken by a separate team—not by the team developing the product.)
- Maintenance: What happens if the software needs updates, fixes, or additional functionalities after it’s launched. Would your vendor provide support, or would you be on your own?
- Predictions about your project: Even though you haven’t signed a contract yet, vendors should be ready and willing to talk though a few of the options and potential hurdles they see in your project based on their experiences with similar work.
Common Pitfalls in Choosing a Vendor
There are plenty of ways a software development project can go wrong, and ensuring it goes well starts with the search for a developer. As you make your final choice, reflect back on the proposals you’ve read and interviews you’ve conducted to be sure you aren’t falling prey to any of these common pitfalls:
- Being wooed by a "yes man." It may be fun and sound good, but when a vendor is acting like a "yes-man," agreeing with everything you say and telling you what you want to hear, that’s a sign they’re not the right choice. Unfortunately, many vendors take this approach in order to win contracts, and it leads to a lot of unfulfilled promises and unhappy customers. You, the client, aren’t the expert in software development, and you’re looking for a vendor who’s willing to engage in healthy discussions that may challenge your perspectives but will ultimately lead to better decisions and a higher-quality project.
- Choosing based on cost alone. Cost is certainly a factor, but as we mentioned before, if a vendor isn’t offering much context to go with a price, especially a dazzlingly low one, that’s a warning. When you’re presented with one quote that lists a high cost and a long timeline compared to one that looks too good to be true, it’s likely you’re better off with the former. We’re not saying inexpensive is always bad, but more often than not, you get what you pay for.
- Focusing too much on technical expertise and not enough on your goals. If a vendor is waxing eloquent about their technical expertise without asking questions about your project or making an effort to understand your industry and your business’s unique business goals, challenges, and risks, you may be losing out on a true partnership.
Choosing the Right Partner for Your Business
Proposals and interviews will knock some vendors out of the running pretty quickly, but what happens when you’re down to two software developers that both check all the right boxes? Like so many critical decisions in life, it comes down to the intangibles. Will this team get with you and be easy, even fun, to work with? Do their team’s processes align with the way your team works best? Have they been easy to work with through the sales process? Does your gut tell you they’re sincere, honest, and dedicated to helping their clients, or do you get a niggling feeling that something’s not quite right?
Once you’ve done your due diligence and all the details have fallen into place, choosing the right partner for your business comes down to your gut feeling about which vendor will provide the best experience and final product for your team and your business.
Why Syberry Should Be at the Top of Your List
Looking for somewhere to start your research? We may be biased, but we’d put Syberry right at the top of your shortlist. Our top priority when engineering a software solution is solving our customers’ business problems. This means learning their business inside and out, understanding their visions, and working with them to strategize the best way to bring them to life. We do not resell any third-party platforms or technologies, so we’re always free to choose the technologies that work best for your specific project, and we’re dedicated to transparency every step of the way, from pricing discussions to progress reports.
To learn more about Syberry and why 70 percent of our customers come back to us for second engagements: reach out to us here. We would love to hear about your vision for the perfect bespoke software solution for your organization.