Advantages of the software package approach
1. Cost savings
The purchase of a software package is perceived as significantly cheaper than developing a bespoke alternative. In a bespoke system the cost of systems development is borne completely by the organisation commissioning the system. In a software package solution, the cost of the systems development is spread across all the potential purchasers of the system hence the reduced cost of purchase.
2. Time savings
The bespoke systems development needs to be tightly specified, designed, programmed and tested. This part of the lifecycle is very time-consuming and during this period requirements may change, so complicating the process even further. The software package is a product that already exists. It can be purchased and implemented almost immediately. There is no requirement for design, programming, unit and systems testing.
3. Quality benefits
The software package is a proven product that has undergone systems testing (in development) and user acceptance testing (by the users who have already bought and used the package). Hence the product should be relatively error-free, as well as fulfilling most of the functional requirements of the application.
4. Available documentation and training
In the software package approach the documentation can be inspected and evaluated before purchasing the product. The documents (such as user manuals and HELP systems) are usually of high quality because they represent an important part of the selling process. In contrast, the documentation supporting a bespoke systems development is not available until very late in the lifecycle and is often sub- contracted to users who do not have the time to do the job properly.
Training: Prospective purchasers can attend a course prior to buying the product and so further evaluate the suitability of the package. Similarly, economies of scale allow the software vendors to produce and provide high quality training courses, supported by professional trainers, at a relatively cheap price.
5. Organised maintenance and enhancement
Software products are usually supported by a formal maintenance agreement. Although this agreement costs money, it usually provides:
Unlimited access to a help desk, where experts can sort out user problems;
Upgrades to the software that correct known faults and also include new functionality defined and agreed with the user community.
The cost of this support and enhancement is again spread across a number of users and so can be offered relatively cheaply to each individual customer.
6. Try before you buy
This entails the ability to examine the product in detail before purchasing it. This is clearly not possible in the bespoke approach to systems development where the product is not ready until the end of the project. The evaluation of the package can be assisted if it can be borrowed (or rented) for a trial period and used in the target hardware and software environment. This can be supplemented by visits to actual users (reference sites) where the operation of the package can be observed and user comments and experiences documented.
Disadvantages of the software package approach.
In the bespoke systems development approach, the ownership of the software usually resides with the purchaser – the customer, not the supplier. This is particularly clear if the development is undertaken ‗in-house‘, because the ownership of the code clearly resides with the organisation, not the IT department or individual programmers. Even if an external software house produces the code, the contract usually specifies that the source code belongs to the commissioning agent (the customer) and not the supplier.
In the software package approach, the ownership of the software usually remains with the supplier. Customers are licensed to use the product, but they never own it. The software purchaser has little control over the future direction and ownership of the product they are buying. This is not the case with a bespoke development.
2. Financial stability of the supplier
External software suppliers are subject to the vagaries of management and the markets. There is a risk that they may go out of business, or experience financial problems that affect the quality of their support and development services.
3. Competitive edge
Many organisations claim that they use (or wish to use) IT and IS as a competitive edge in the market place. They develop bespoke systems to give them that edge. In the software package approach, the software solution (or product) is open to all competitors and potential competitors. It is difficult to see how such a solution can provide a competitive edge, as all potential competitors have access to that solution.
4. Failure to fit requirements
This is the inability of the product to fit all (100%) of users‘ requirements. This means that either:
Users have to make compromises and accept that they will not get all the functionality they require; or
Tailored amendments will have to be made to the software product to deliver the required functionality.
Whichever way is chosen, it is clear that most software packages do not fulfill all the user requirements defined for a particular application.
5. Legal redress
In a bespoke development, the ultimate failure of the system to fulfil the user‘s functional requirements can be resolved (usually in the favour of the customer) by law. Clearly this last resort is inappropriate if the system has been developed by an internal IS department, but it is an option if the system has been developed by an external software house.