When Should You Consider Custom Application Development?

Software applications have become so common in our personal and professional lives that we often take them for granted. The proliferation of smartphones wouldn’t have been possible without the associated apps that allow us to capture the full value of these devices. Sometimes businesses are not able to take advantage of these low-cost apps, prompting the decision to consider in-house vs. outsourcing application development.

What is Application Development?

For this article, when we refer to an “application” or an “app,” this is an abbreviated term for a “software application.” Application development is the process of writing programming in a language that enables a task to be performed, such as printing a sales report or extracting data from a scanned form. No matter what application you create, you must follow a set of steps to successfully launch your new app. These steps include gathering a set of requirements and preparing the first “prototype,” followed by testing, implementation, and integration.

Build vs. Buy?

There are several factors to consider when deciding how to best automate a task with a software application. Is this an action that can be easily done with a “Commercial Off the Shelf” (COTS) application that already exists? Or is this a more custom task that must be created, or if it does exist, would be very expensive and time-consuming to recreate?

Examples of use cases where COTS applications are best left to the specialist vendors that provide them include Enterprise Resource Planning or other accounting-based software applications. These are complex systems that ensure financial statements are prepared accurately – a critical task, regardless of the size of your business.

Examples of use cases where building a custom application makes sense include those that integrate other, much larger, and more complex applications. If you have a process that must be regularly repeated, such as the extraction of data must from another application, then it starts to make sense to invest in building a custom application.

When deciding to “build,” keep in mind you need to consider how the application will be maintained. Over time, every software application requires some sort of maintenance. Things change, new features are identified, security updates must be applied, or new performance and scalability might be needed. Therefore, rather than doing custom app development with a freelancer that might not be available for support five years from now, it might make sense to work with more of an established company that has a support team available to ensure your custom application continues to work for many years to come.

Deploy on the Cloud or On-premises?

Theoretically, the decision of where to host your custom software application shouldn’t impact how it performs. Historically, applications were written to be run on a local server or computer maintained by an IT person or team. Once the Internet became mainstream, the notion of shared applications operating on a website became mainstream.

Here are a few factors to consider when choosing where to host your custom application:

  1. Will this be an application that is just run internally, by a single office or location? If so, there is a logic to suggest that in this scenario, hosting your application locally, or on-premises might be your best option. You should also consider whether this custom application will be integrated with other applications or systems, and where those other systems are located.
  2. What resources are available to support an issue if/when it occurs? If this custom application will be run at a corporate office with a robust, onsite IT team, then resource availability might not be an issue. Not only should you assess labor resource availability for the on-premises location, but also whether or not a local data center exists to host the application. Then, the information that is extracted from your custom application will need to be stored and backed up. Each of these activities requires local computer resources to be available, maintained, and secured.
  3. Will your application be used by partners or other third parties? If your custom app will involve partners – or provides a capability for a partner or other third-party firm to interact with the application – then hosting it on-premises might not be your best option. To start, best-practice security standards suggest you do not want outsiders inside your company’s firewall or network perimeter. Alternatively, hosting providers can provide sufficient access control to ensure the right users only have access to their pertinent information.

Low-Code/No-Code Application Development

A final factor to consider is an emerging trend that offers a hybrid approach to COTS vs. custom application development. As explained in an article by the Harvard Business Review, Low-Code/No-Code (LC/NC) applications can provide a close fit to business requirements and can be implemented quickly. What is different with this approach is that they turn over app development to users instead of professional developers. With point-and-click or pull-down menu interfaces, users are empowered to design and implement their systems or applications.

Under this scenario, you must rely on your users to do the “heavy lifting,” so to speak. They will be tasked with creating the programs and doing any modifications – but these “citizen developers” might not be available to fix future issues from such a strategy. In some circumstances or use cases where the task to be repeated or automated is quite simple, this scenario can work, so should be part of your overall evaluation process in the decision of investing in custom app development.

In conclusion, there are several factors worthy of consideration when evaluating if custom application work is needed. Regardless of what strategy you pursue, there are advantages to working with professional programmers who have performed this type of work before and will be around to support your app well into the future. Combine this industry knowledge with a high-performance application, and you can gain higher performance and efficiency while gaining new business insights that help keep your business going in the right decision.