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Custom Versus Pre-Built Mobile Apps: When Does Custom Make More Sense?

Custom Versus Pre-Built Mobile Apps: When Does Custom Make More Sense?

I will be the first to say that not every company needs a mobile app – let alone a custom-developed mobile app.

Pre-built, off-the-shelf software is, in some cases, a very suitable and cost-effective option.

So, how do you know which is the most appropriate in your case?

The answer could be as straightforward as – are you able to find a pre-built mobile solution that does what you need, and does it well?

If not, have you discussed your needs with an app developer to get an idea of the cost to have a custom solution developed (including ongoing maintenance)? Does your business case justify that investment? In other words – do you have a healthy budget and will you see return on your investment?

In this blog I’ll explore some business cases where, provided that you can secure budget and see ROI, you’re likely to find that a custom mobile app makes more sense than off-the-shelf.

5 Business Cases for a Custom App

1. Your Needs Are Very Unique, or Specific

When your use case for the mobile app is uncommon, unique or proprietary, it might not be possible to find an off-the-shelf solution on the market.

The business model behind canned software is based on the fact that the software is filling a very common need within an industry.  The more uncommon and specific your needs, the less likely you are to find that a mobile app already exists.

An example is one of the mobile apps that we developed for a field services company. Each field tech is assigned sites to visit, and while visiting each site certain information needs to be collected, saved, processed and uploaded to their servers in a very specific way.

The exact process is critical.

Our client searched for, but was unable to find a solution that could do what they required. So they hired us to create the solution for them.

2. You Are Strongly Motivated to ‘Keep it Simple’ and Avoid Unnecessary Features

We’ve all been there. Using some new application or gadget, you find yourself moaning…

Why can’t it just do what I need it to do without all this other…stuff.

A common downside of feature-rich off-the-shelf business apps is that they’re overly complicated, when what you really need is just a small subset of their rich bevy of features.

Now that was a mouthful.

As you know, when rolling out new applications to your customers or employees, adoption can be a hurdle. This is made worse by the steep learning curve that plagues many business applications.

Imagine if your mobile app did only what your customers needed – and was intuitive and easy to use!

Let’s go back to the example of the field services company we helped. Their team works in wind, rain and snow; they are busy, and fast-moving. Having a solution they can easily and quickly use to get the job done right was a critical factor in their decision to go custom-built.

3. Your Own Branding is Required

If your organization’s mobile app will be used by your customers, or in any case where branding is a critical component of your app, custom development has advantages.

All of the mobile apps that we create include a custom designed user-interface and app icon. The design is unique to your app, and we create it in collaboration with your team, to ensure it meets your corporate branding standards.

We do not place our name, logo or copyright on your mobile app.

Some canned mobile apps enable the licensee to modify the color scheme, add their logo and photos – others do not. In my experience, even when allowed, these customizations are sometimes limited.

If your app is key to your brand or products, the last thing you’ll want is a generic look and feel, or another company’s logo on your app icon.

4. It Must Integrate with Proprietary Hardware

In the world of app-enabled or app-connected products, custom is especially advantageous and often – absolutely necessary.

For example, your company manufactures portable industrial generators.

You need a mobile app to be used only by the equipment owner to connect to their generator and view battery voltage, power output, run time history, water temperature,  and so on. Remote monitoring and control is another possibility.

Another example is within the medical device manufacturing space. Your company is developing a portable laparoscopy device and you need a mobile app developed that will live stream video taken by the device – onto a nearby (or remote) tablet or smartphone.

Yes, if you manufacture a device and load it with software for which there already exists a generic mobile app – this could be an exception. In that case, double-check item three above.

5. You Need Complete Control Over the Features

When purchasing off-the-shelf software, control lies with the company you license from. There are many benefits to this (lower initial costs, little lead time needed to get started), as well as potential draw-backs.

With pre-built mobile apps, the vendor determines the feature set (though generally with their customers’ needs in mind). What, and when it is developed, is out of your hands.

Although the control over features that comes with a custom app sounds ideal, there are prices to pay and development timelines here as well.

With custom-developed, the development and maintenance costs of the mobile app are borne by your organization only – whereas vendor-hosted mobile apps have their costs spread over many clients.

So – When Does Custom Make More Sense?

Here is a good rule of thumb.

When you are unable to find an off-the-shelf solution that does what you need, and the cost of custom development provides enough return on investment to justify the investment.

Sara @ Big Fish

Sara @ Big Fish

Sara MacQueen is the Founder and President of Big Fish - we turn revolutionary ideas into reality through custom software design and development. Sara was named one of "25 Mobile Women to Watch" and has been interviewed by local and national media for her expertise in mobile technology and business. When she's not working, Sara enjoys hiking and cooking meals from scratch with ingredients found at farmers markets.

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