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Dom | Five.Co
Dom | Five.Co

Posted on • Originally published at

How to Build Custom Business Software

If you are working at a small- to medium-sized business and unsure how to build custom business software, or if custom business software is right for you in the first place, you are in the right place.

In this blog post, we cover two questions:

  1. Should I build custom business software?
  2. How to build custom business software.

Let's start by looking at reasons for and against building custom business software. Feel free to skip this section if you're already convinced of the need for custom business software and jump straight to a hands-on tutorial on building custom business software.

Hands-On Tutorial: Building Custom Business Software

Follow our hands-on, step-by-step tutorial and learn how to convert an Excel spreadsheet into a piece of custom business software.

Convert an Excel Spreadsheet Into Custom Business Software
Follow our FREE step-by-step tutorial

Learn More

Should I Build Custom Business Software?

Much has been written about the build vs buy decision that small- and medium-sized businesses need to make when it comes to software.

The Buy camp usually argues that buying an off-the-shelf solution has many advantages.

For example, when purchasing software from a reputable software vendor and implementing a standardized system, one becomes part of a community of users and automatically benefits from the industry experience of the software vendor.

Secondly, the software vendor provides support, guarantees uptime, scalability, and accessibility, and is in charge of fixing bugs or glitches.

In short, why go bespoke when a finished and ready-to-use app is out there already? And let's face it: there's an off-the-shelf system for almost everything already, from customer relationship (CRM) to invoicing to HR systems.

Or is there? Let's see what the advantages of building business software are.

The Build camp usually argues that every business is unique. Especially smaller businesses have their own way of doing things. This makes them unique and makes them stand out from the competition.

Secondly, small- and medium-sized businesses are usually very hands-on. Oftentimes, even the owner is working in the day-to-day operations of the business. Instead of becoming dependent on a 3rd party software vendor, smaller businesses prefer to control their own destiny.

Last, there is a risk to implementing an off-the-shelf solution. Software implementations can disturb the day-to-day business, which is something smaller businesses cannot afford. Smaller businesses need to be able to continue doing business as usual. The software needs to adapt to the business and not vice versa.

Last, smaller businesses have a way of working that can be difficult to change. Without a doubt, there are great off-the-shelf systems that enforce standard operating procedures, but it's hard to change people's way of doing things.

Our Experience With Building Custom Business Software

Our experience here at Five is that the real issue between buying and building software is time. Regardless of whether software is bought or built, small businesses don't have time to go through lengthy software implementations when buying or lengthy development processes when building software. Speed is critical.

The second real issue is change. As mentioned, there is amazing software available for almost everything. But smaller businesses oftentimes don't need all the latest and greatest features if these features come with a steep learning curve. Too many software implementations fail because off-the-shelf systems do more than the business needs. A simple piece of custom software that does the job is quicker to use and easier to implement can create the necessary support by users to roll out more features in the future.

The third issue is cost. Off-the-shelf systems may appear cheap, but bear in mind that most software vendors sell implementation services with their software packages. The more complex the software, the harder it is to implement, and the more money is typically spent on consultants, managed service providers, or system integrators.

How to Build Custom Business Software

Building custom business software is not as complex as it may appear.

Today's development tools make building custom software accessible even to non-programmers by offering the required building blocks as pre-built features. Instead of writing code, users "assemble" their software by putting together pre-built features that ultimately make up their finished application.

What are these pre-built features? Most custom business software consists of these elements:

  1. A database for storing data,
  2. Forms for data entry,
  3. Calculations for processing data,
  4. PDF reports, charts, and dashboards for visualizing data,
  5. User logins and authentication for controlling access to data, and
  6. Notifications (email or in-app) for notifying users of data changes.

With these six elements, almost any custom business application can be built: an inventory management system, a customer relationship management system, an order management system, a product information management system, or an approval workflow.

If the application that you wish to build primarily consists of these elements, consider using a database application builder, such as Five to build your application. Our Excel to web app guide, for example, is a beginner-friendly, step-by-step tutorial that turns a spreadsheet into a web app.

Considerations When Building Custom Business Software

Building your own custom business software can be truly exciting: with just a few clicks your idea for an application comes to life. With tools, such as Five, it doesn't take much more than a day to create a first, functional prototype.

But there are a few things to bear in mind when embarking on an app development project:

  1. Time: if you are the business owner or a department head, you have plenty of other things to do. Even though you could build your application, the question is should you build your application? Sometimes, it can be smarter to let an experienced developer build the foundation of your application and to only get involved later in the process.
  2. Standard databases: when choosing a no- or low-code development environment, ask whether it uses a standard database for storing your data. This is important to minimize vendor lock-in. Standard databases that offer full data portability include MySQL, SQLite, or PostgreSQL for example (Five builds on a MySQL database).
  3. Full code extensibility: a lot of things can be developed in drag-and-drop or point-and-click. But the truth is computers are ultimately designed to understand code. Choosing a development environment that makes the use of code in the development process optional minimizes the risk of hitting a roadblock in your development process. Choosing a development environment that does not offer any full code capabilities, on the other hand, reduces flexibility in the development process.

Last, a word on cost. Five, for example, offers a Basic plan where running an application costs US$29.99 per app and month with no additional fees for additional users. This makes budgeting for an application easy. Other vendors of off-the-shelf software or development tools charge per end-user, per workload units, or for database records.

If you find a vendor's pricing model opaque or difficult to understand, take it as a red flag. Understanding the cost of running an application, whether it's an off-the-shelf app or a piece of custom software should be a straightforward exercise. If in doubt, ask your vendor for a three-year total cost of ownership projection that includes all costs associated with running the application.

Hands-On Tutorial: Build Custom Business Software Today

Follow our hands-on tutorial and build a custom business app today.

Convert an Excel Spreadsheet Into Custom Business Software
Follow our FREE step-by-step tutorial

Learn More

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