When Implementing New Technologies, is Customization or Off-the-Shelf Solutions Better?
In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the debate between custom and off-the-shelf solutions is more relevant than ever. We’ve gathered insights from founders, CEOs, and CTOs to share their experiences, highlighting scenarios where their choice led to successful implementations. From embracing AI for custom backend functions to ensuring off-the-shelf reliability for business operations, here are the diverse strategies and outcomes of nine tech leaders.
- Embrace AI for Custom Backend Functions
- Hybrid CRM Implementation Strategy
- Custom E-Commerce Platform Boosts Sales
- Hybrid Approach for Brazing Machine Integration
- Custom Solutions for Project Success
- Assess Needs Before Choosing Tech
- Off-the-Shelf with Customizable APIs
- Proof of Concept with Off-the-Shelf Tech
- Streamlining Work with Cloud-Based Tech
- Ensuring Off-the-Shelf Reliability for Business Operations
Embrace AI for Custom Backend Functions
I used to be very pro “off-the-shelf” solutions, as the most important asset is time, and they really help with that. But now, with AI, all that’s changed.
A good example from me would be using ChatGPT to create custom Google Cloud functions for backend work (instead of using Zapier to create the logic). A year ago, I would have told you to build it on Zapier, but now that ChatGPT can walk me through anything, it’s just become much smarter to go the custom route.
Hybrid CRM Implementation Strategy
As a business owner, I prefer a combination of both customization and off-the-shelf solutions, depending on the needs and goals of the project.
For instance, when implementing a CRM system, we opted for an off-the-shelf solution for its core functionalities but customized certain features to align with our distinctive business processes. Hybrid approaches help with faster implementation while meeting our specific needs.
Custom E-Commerce Platform Boosts Sales
As a technology leader with over 15 years of experience, I have learned there are benefits to both customization and off-the-shelf solutions when implementing new technologies. The approach I take depends largely on the specific project and business needs.
Customization allows us to build a solution tailored exactly to our requirements. However, it often requires more time and development resources. Off-the-shelf solutions enable faster implementation and leverage proven technology, though they may require some compromise.
In one scenario, we needed a new e-commerce platform that aligned closely with our brand image and unique sales process. After evaluating off-the-shelf solutions, I determined the customization required would be so extensive that building from scratch would be a better option.
Though the custom build took more time upfront, the end result was a platform that perfectly fit our business. Sales and marketing teams could showcase products exactly how they wanted, without working around software limitations. The platform also integrated seamlessly with our order and fulfillment systems.
While customization isn’t always the best approach, for this project it enabled us to create a solution that truly aligned with our specific business needs. The investment paid off with increased sales, happier customers, and a platform our developers can easily maintain and build upon.
Hybrid Approach for Brazing Machine Integration
Balancing between customization and off-the-shelf solutions depends on the project’s scale and specific needs.
In one instance, integrating a new technology for our automatic brazing machines, we chose a hybrid approach. We started with an off-the-shelf solution for its reliability and support, then customized it to fit our unique requirements. This approach led to a seamless integration, enhancing our operational efficiency without the drawbacks of starting from scratch or settling for a less-than-ideal solution.
Custom Solutions for Project Success
In my opinion, while off-the-shelf solutions can be quite effective for small businesses, they are often not suitable for medium-sized businesses or startups. This is because even if there is a product on the market that meets 90% of our needs, we typically buy it and then tailor the remaining 10% to better suit our specific requirements.
In my area of responsibility, we take a customized approach because there are many individual factors that standard solutions simply cannot take into account. This approach most likely does not seem efficient, but based on my experience, I can say that the individual solution ultimately contributed to the success of the project.
Assess Needs Before Choosing Tech
Personally, I prefer customized technologies for business. While off-the-shelf tech certainly serves its purpose and can help your business, it can’t always do everything that you want it to do. The benefit of customized tech is that you can fine-tune it to your business’s exact needs. It’s also often a lot more flexible, meaning you can adjust it as your business grows and changes.
With that being said, customized tech is almost always more expensive than off-the-shelf tech because it involves more work either for the company providing customized services or for your business if you’re customizing the tech yourself.
Business leaders need to assess their budget and needs before choosing one type of technology over the other. More often than not, it’s a smarter move to start with off-the-shelf tech and use that to grow your business to a point where it becomes more necessary to use customized options to continue to grow and offer customers a smooth experience.
Off-the-Shelf with Customizable APIs
Off-the-shelf is hard to beat. Unless the technology choice is right in the fairway of our business, it makes more sense to adapt to a specialized product that we can pay for via a subscription. The very best options are off-the-shelf but provide extensive APIs to allow the necessary customization outside the core platform.
Proof of Concept with Off-the-Shelf Tech
I would always start with an off-the-shelf solution, so you can test without having to invest too much. Create a proof of concept with off-the-shelf solutions and then adjust it if it’s necessary. In the past, I have tested a new workflow for our platform with Typeform. We used it as a briefing for ChatGPT, which was then uploaded to our platform for editing. Since it all worked out well, we decided to productize it.
Streamlining Work with Cloud-Based Tech
In my experience, I have always preferred off-the-shelf solutions to overcome the problem of inefficiency and tight deadlines. I think the main advantage of off-the-shelf business software is its immediacy and cost-effectiveness, as it can be deployed quickly and is generally less expensive than custom software.
We once helped one of our clients, a law firm based in Los Angeles, CA, where my team was handling the entire discovery part of the litigation process for them. We were working on around 50 cases, which involved reviewing thousands of documents, correspondences, confidential data, etc. We used a cloud-based eDiscovery software, Relativity, to achieve faster and more consistent document review. The most time-consuming, hectic, and exhausting part of the discovery process, though, was the manual handling of confidential data. This involved finding PII/PHI on the documents and tagging/removing the documents that were privileged under the attorney-client relationship.
We used a tool, Redact, on Relativity One, that helped in seamlessly finding and redacting PI from documents. It was particularly helpful in bulk redactions because of its automated redaction feature, which helped save our resources and time. Every ten-page document redaction only took two and a half minutes. Also, owing to its cloud-based technology, the redaction software eliminated the risk of virus attacks. We were able to successfully complete all our projects on time, with maximum accuracy.
Using an off-the-shelf software like Relativity not only helped in quick implementation but also lessened the burden for our legal as well as tech team.
Ensuring Off-the-Shelf Reliability for Business Operations
Generally, I prefer off-the-shelf solutions when implementing new technologies. They offer the advantage of being tested and reliable, with a quicker implementation time compared to custom solutions. These technologies typically come with support and regular updates from established vendors, which is a significant plus.
While they may not always fit every specific need, their cost-effectiveness and lower risk make them a practical choice, particularly for standard business operations. Furthermore, the widespread use of these solutions often means there’s a larger community for support and knowledge sharing.