Viewing archives for Custom Software

Does my business need bespoke software?

If the software can be uniquely valuable to your business, then bespoke software offers a great commercial opportunity. But it requires substantial investment, and you will be living with the decision for years to come.

Conversely, an enormous range of off-the-shelf software is now available, and it is increasingly flexible and powerful. And modern off-the-shelf products are normally cloud-based with subscription pricing, so they are easier than ever to own and operate.

Large off-the-shelf implementations, however, are also difficult and complex projects, and they will not provide your business with a point of difference. In fact, normally, these projects are deliberately aiming to drive established best-practice into business processes and to enforce standardisation and rationalisation.

Custom software development on the other hand is complicated and risky, but it can deliver uniqueness and genuinely valuable innovation. This comes at a price, and many bespoke software projects fail—bespoke software is valuable because it’s not easy.

What are the benefits of bespoke software?

Bespoke software can deliver stand-out user experiences and functionality. This may allow your business operation to do something different and better than the competition; it may allow you to deliver valuable innovations.

But business leaders need to ask themselves this challenging question: Is it a genuine innovation, and would customers value it?

Bespoke software can be a means to create new market opportunities, to build engaging brand experiences for your customers, and to radically reduce cost or service. It can bring innovation and digital thinking to the heart of your business culture.

Find out how we are helping a mid-market business with a bespoke software project.

What are the disadvantages of bespoke software?

Bespoke software projects are very difficult to plan and manage, and because anything is possible, it is often difficult to manage scope.

Conversations between non-technical business leaders and highly technical software developers are often fraught. It’s very difficult for non-technical leaders to assess the completeness, security, or quality of software, and developers often struggle to explain the implications of their design decisions. Effort estimates are notoriously unreliable, and problems may only become apparent very late, so relationships can become strained.

All bespoke software requires ongoing fixes and changes, either to address errors (which are inevitable) or keep up with the continual evolution of IT. As there really is no end to a bespoke software project, you need to ensure that experts are always available and involved. And tools and approaches that work for small-scale software are not appropriate for large, important software products, so if the project is successful, there is a constant need to upgrade.

Many business leaders are frustrated that the costs never seem to end.

How can I ensure that bespoke software delivers innovation?

Businesses that embark on bespoke software need to understand the likely cost and effort in the short-, medium- and long-term. They need to create a robust business plan that demonstrates the value and remain entirely focussed on delivering it.

They need to ensure that have the necessary technical skills and leadership skills to deliver the software to time and budget and to deliver the intended business outcomes.

For more non-technical advice, visit our ERP and Integration Issues Knowledge Centre, which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT directors, CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with SME and mid-market organisations, and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Does your business run on Excel? Undo!

One of the UK’s leading health agencies, Public Health England (PHE), has revealed a massive under-reporting of covid-19 cases due to an Excel blunder.

The truth is that many mid-market CEOs know their own businesses are too dependent on Excel. We’ve all become stuck in an Excel circular reference. The challenge is how to escape. Excel has become ubiquitous for a reason. It is extremely simple to start and amazing what you can do quickly.

But for some mid-market businesses, Excel has become an unplanned core back-office system. It is often the link between systems and processes; it is sometimes used to store critical data; and it is often used to present and explore data throughout the business.

Finance people can’t get enough of it. The rest of us can’t remember the clever bits, but we still use it anyway.

But why is it dangerous?

  1. Excel is fundamentally unstructured and easy to change. This makes it incredibly convenient. But it also allows for continuous tinkering. And it can be very difficult to assess the impact of changes and to identify errors.
  2. Excel files, passed between people by email, or shared in folders (or worse on USB sticks!) are a recipe for error, confusion and unauthorised access. Good systems go hand-in-hand with good processes, and Excel encourages neither.
  3. Excel is a dead-end. There is no ‘pathway’ to formalise an Excel process into a more managed system with proper controls, an audit trail, security, data management and error-checking. Excel is not a sound basis for automation or integration.

In the meantime, see our ERP and integration knowledge centre for more on smoothing out systems and processes


In short, Excel can lead a mid-market business to the point where it is very difficult to scale and where they are exposed to fraud or blunders like PHE’s. But since it works most of the time, and the cost of replacement looks high, the easiest thing is just to carry on with it.

But the bottom line is that to run a business well you need integrated systems that support efficient, agile processes, and deliver useful management information to enable decision making. You won’t get all that with Excel.

Your company’s systems strategy should have some principles to avoid an overdependence on Excel. What might they be?

  1. Use Excel freely – when it’s appropriate. For example, new ideas, new opportunities, or an informal look at data. Use Excel as a personal tool for tackling problems.
  2. Establish your business’s timeframe or scale-of-use for Excel. For example, ‘We won’t use Excel to manage this project for more than nine months.’ Or: ‘It wouldn’t make sense to run a new business line on Excel once revenue exceeds £100k per month.’ Or: ‘We always ring alarm-bells when someone starts using Excel’s built-in coding platform’.
  3. Here’s the tricky part: you need an integrated set of systems and processes that can smoothly replace Excel when the time comes.

Excel is an amazing product; it is ubiquitous for a reason. But its convenience can be its downfall or yours. Like all powerful tools, handle it with care!

If your company needs help replacing Excel with an affordable integrated system, get in touch. We have a lot of experience helping mid-market businesses streamline their systems, and we’re always up for an informal chat.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Custom software & digital

Custom software is an opportunity to build real competitive advantage, making your business unique and adding business value.

But custom software can be hugely challenging. The range of skills needed can be overwhelming. We are a team of experienced business people who understand software; therefore, we can ensure a clear system strategy and oversee architecture and design decisions, good project management, engineering, testing and roll-out.

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it ‘fractional’) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use technology to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation. 

Subscribe to our Business Insights

Plain English board-level briefings focused on technology strategies to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

* Please enter an email address
newnewsletterrecipient

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.

Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

Subscribe to our Business Insights

Plain English board-level briefings focused on technology strategies to deliver competitive advantage and business success.

* Please enter an email address
newnewsletterrecipient

You can unsubscribe at any time.

Thank you.

You’ll now receive regular expert business insights.

Call us on 0203 020 1864 with any questions.

What is your current focus?

Find out how we can assist you.
We can help you.

What is your current focus?

Find out how we can assist you.
We can help you.