Opinion

Whatever happened to bespoke?

4 min read

30 August 2013

Although organisations are embracing cloud-based solutions to drive down costs, many of these essential aspects of the business are being constrained by investment in off-the-shelf tools that fail to deliver the scalability required to support business growth

Bespoke software development, executed in an agile methodology, enables businesses to be more efficient and effective. It provides the tools that support core business objectives with minimal risk and without incurring huge additional costs.

So, when rethinking IT procurement it is essential to consider all the options.

Anyone with experience of IT knows about bespoke. Many will have experienced bespoke project development, yet far too many disregard the option of bespoke development, wrongly perceiving that bespoke adds cost and risk. The truth is that bespoke is the only way to get a solution that is really fit for purpose.

So, why does this attitude persist? There is no doubt that high profile headlines about catastrophic bespoke development failure grab the attention of those tasked with committing budget. But the problems – albeit significant – that contributed to such failures cannot be attributed to bespoke development. This is not bespoke software; this is badly managed bespoke software development. Consider, instead, the hugely successful, influential bespoke development projects – from the iPlayer to LinkedIn.

Agile approach

What distinguishes the bespoke failure from the bespoke success? Agile methodologies are now an inherent part of many business operations, from marketing and PR to business development. Extending this model to IT development and project management has been an essential shift in enabling businesses to align technology innovation with business objectives. 

The Agile development methodologies approach is iterative, collaborative, highly visible and always creates a product. A fundamental aspect of the agile development process is a robust sign off process: relevant stakeholders have visibility of each stage. As a result, it is unheard of for an agile led development to experience the type of disaster that grabs headlines. 

Making the case

Having dispelled the bespoke myth regarding risk, it is important to balance the cost of bespoke against off the shelf. Whilst the bespoke development investment is loaded towards the beginning of the cycle, there are no on going licensing costs. For any organisation, adding in the costs of licenses and training for new employees can rapidly decrease the appeal of an off-the-shelf solution. 

And that is assuming the business achieves an application that is fit for purpose from day one – which is unlikely. Most organisations have to invest in some degree of customisation to tailor the solution to meet specific needs. Even worse, if the solution has not met business needs, what is the cost to the organisation in productivity reduction, poor efficiency, and lost opportunity? 

Of course, for the majority of deployments, off-the-shelf works – there is no need to recreate the wheel. But at some point most organisations are likely to require a piece of software with functionality and features that are simply not available off-the-shelf. Indeed, in an era of cloud computing and viable outsourcing, bespoke is rapidly gaining ground as organisations recognise the value of innovation and agility in achieving growth and differentiation, especially in the digital economy. 

As businesses take an increasingly radical review of the IT estate, isn’t it time to put bespoke back on the agenda?

Ben Gritz is managing director of Totally Communications.

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