Definition _

Software created to meet an individual customer’s needs. It is the logical opposite of an off-the-shelf (OTS) software product. OTS software is typically created to meet the generic needs of a wide range of customers with the development cost funded from all product sales, whereas bespoke software is limited to the specific requirements of a single customer with the cost borne by the individual customer.

What are the reasons for developing bespoke software?

There can be a variety of reasons a customer may wish to commission bespoke software rather than purchasing an off the shelf product, these include:

  • They want to create a new innovative product
    Creating something innovative, new and unique is a way to stand out from the competition and create new revenue streams.
  • They want the software to exactly match their business processes
    Optimising the efficiency of your business processes will minimise your costs allowing you to beat the competition and win more business.
  • They want their customers to have a unique experience
    Enhancing a customer’s experience is another way to stand out from the competition, enabling you to win new business and stay ahead of the game.
  • They can’t find an off the shelf product that sufficiently matches their requirements
    Niches businesses are unlikely to find off the shelf products that fit nicely with their requirements since they are developed to meet generic needs.
  • They need to integrate the software with other third party products
    Integrating software products together provides a means to maximise the value of software being used.
  • The software is so critical to their business the risk of the software provider having control and access to their data is too high to rely on a third party product provider
    Software can often be absolutely critical to the running of a business and having a reliance that is not fully under your control can be a significant risk to your business.

Bespoke versus off the shelf

Bespoke software and off the shelf software both have advantages and disadvantages. The key is understand what’s best for your business.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Bespoke Software?


  • The software can be designed to fit your optimum business processes, making your business highly efficient
  • The software can incorporate unique functionality not available in any off the shelf product
  • The software will include only the functionality you require, you do not need to pay to develop functionality that will not be used
  • The software can be designed to take into account all your specific requirements, not just the functionality you see when you use it.  You may have specific requirements around security, hosting, reporting, future growth, performance, integration etc.
  • The relationship with the vendor will be tight enabling close, collaborative working relationships
  • Source code and IPR can be protected
  • Service Levels can be tailored to your requirements


  • Can be perceived to be high cost compared to off the shelf product software, however the full ROI needs to be considered
  • Ongoing maintenance is necessary 
  • Requires detailed specification process

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Off the Shelf Software?


  • Value for money can be perceived to be high given that a high degree of functionality can be attained for a relatively low cost
  • Products may incorporate additional functionality that the company can expand to use at a later date
  • A large customer base increases the likelihood of edge case scenarios having been resolved by other users
  • Time to deployment should be short, since the software is pre-written.
  • Service Levels are typically to standards that may not be satisfactory to your business requirements


  • The software is likely to incorporate functionality that is not required, the cost of development of which will be included in the product pricing
  • The software is likely to incorporate functionality that is not exactly as you would like it to be. 
  • Depending on the availability, product selection can be a difficult and time consuming process to validate the software and weigh up the differences
  • You will most likely have to create your business processes around how the software works.  Manual workarounds, at different points in the process are likely to be necessary.
  • New business requirements that arise in the future may or may not fit with how the software works and cause problems as to how the business deals with the limitations.
  • The future direction of the product development may not match with your aspirations or requirements.  
  • The vendor relationship is typically arms-length meaning vendor issues arise without warning
  • Migrating data out of a product into a new product may be difficult and costly
  • All source code and IPR is owned by vendor and inaccessible in the event of liquidation of the vendor