Once your organisation has decided that it needs to fill a gap in its systems with a new piece of software, there are three main methods to getting software that works into the hands of your employees: curation (finding the off-the-shelf software that will suit you best), customisation (linking off-the-shelf software), and creation (building bespoke software from scratch). Each has its benefits and drawbacks.
The fastest, easiest, and usually cheapest way to get software is to buy it off the shelf. For most business software these days this is usually done as a subscription to a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) product. This particularly suits smaller businesses as a lot of SaaS software is priced per user, and the small number of users combined with usually no up-front costs makes it much more affordable for cash-strapped businesses. There is are a couple of downsides though:
- Most off-the-shelf software has limited options for customisation, usually just changing thematic options to match your business’ branding.
- As the number of employees in your business grows, the cost to your business grows too. Usually this isn’t a problem as the additional employees productivity pays for the software, but it can easily result in the situation where you pay tens of thousands of dollars per year for software, every year.
It can be a challenge too to find all the options available to you. Sites like alternativeto.net, g2.com and capterra.com help to compare software packages, but sometimes the problem is just finding the words to express what you want. If that’s a challenge holding back your business, get in touch!
As your business grows you usually end up with multiple software packages (such as Xero for invoicing and HubSpot as a CRM, a popular combination). These work fine separately, with contacts in Xero and contacts in HubSpot, for example. But a lot of businesses find that data (and profits!) start to go missing in the gaps. It might be that a customer’s phone number doesn’t get transferred across in the manual process of creating an invoice. and now accounts payable has to ask the marketing person for that information. This could have been prevented with a less clunky process.
A lot of SaaS products offer an application programming interface (API) that allows software, when correctly configured, to talk to each other. That issue with HubSpot and Xero not talking to each other? There’s a fix for that. A lot of the more popular packages can be readily connected with pre-built connectors. All you have to do is install them (and in some cases pay for the privilege).
Other times, especially when you’ve chosen a less popular software package that suits your business better, there is no out-of-the-box customisations and integrations available. The software might still offer an API, but that’s no help if there’s nothing to plug into it, right? Wrong! Luckily, there are a couple of solutions.
Using IFTTT and Zapier to Build Integrations
The first is to use a product like IFTTT or Zapier, both of which feature lots of pre-built connectors for various software, and a drag-and-drop interface to connect them together. For example, we’ve had one client that wanted to use synchronise their Microsoft 365 calendar with their personal Google calendar. There’s no native integration that allows these two products to talk to each other, but using Zapier, there is. We instructed Zapier to listen for new calendar events in both calendars, and then create an event in the other calendar. Both Zapier and IFTTT have a bit of a learning curve. We find that both are fairly easy to use for most computer-savvy users.
Building Integrations and Customisations from Scratch
Sometimes even Zapier fails to provide a way to integrate software together. In this case, engaging a software developer to build the integration from scratch is the only way to go. This is also a good option where data needs to be transformed or summarised in the transition. Building integrations from scratch is a much more involved job than building IFTTT or Zapier integrations. For this reason, this isn’t always viable for smaller businesses. They might be better off sticking with manual processes as they grow. Larger businesses will however find multiple benefits. The first is that things will be done ‘just so’ every time. The second is the huge time savings that come from automation. If you’re interested in building integrations between your software systems, this is something we do.
Finally, there is creating software from scratch. This is best done when software forms part of your businesses ‘secret sauce’ or way of doing things. For example, most professional services businesses are pretty similar when it comes to sending invoices. If the invoice has the right information, it doesn’t really matter how it gets generated. You can adapt your business to the software. On the other hand, your business might rely on complex project management rules to handle the jobs that come and go. In this case, it might be worth building a project management system from scratch.
Building software from scratch means that it is unique to your business, with all of the customisation required. The software can even help express your businesses unique selling proposition (USP).
However, this comes with a downside. While the ongoing running costs of fully customised software are very competitive with off-the-shelf software, the upfront development costs can be expensive. This usually places custom software out of reach of the smallest businesses. We’ve found it is usually around 10 employees that most businesses would see value from custom software. There are exceptions, however, and we’ve built software from scratch for businesses of every size, from 1 employee to 1000.
No matter the size of your organisation, there is a method of acquiring software that will work for you. The method to finding that software that we recommend usually changes as the business grows, from finding off-the-shelf software, to customisation of that software, then finally to building software from scratch. No matter where you are in that journey, we can help you get what you need.