Custom Software Apps & SharePoint Consulting

Good Planning a Key Differentiator for Custom Software

Custom software can be a great tool to match processes to your business. The recent proliferation of do-it-yourself tools makes this even easier because they allow people who aren’t professional programmers to create their own software.

This change in custom application development is part of the trend towards disruptive innovation, in which an innovation disrupts an existing technology. The ability of disruptive innovation to change traditional value organization and delivery has resulted in tools with bad user interfaces and poor performance.

A recent article in Brainzooming.com provides examples that illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of DIY software development.

DIY Custom Software Advantages

DIY custom software can be a great fit in those cases where they provide greater success than traditional off-the-shelf software. One example would be if a small business needed a basic level of reporting.

A well set-up Excel spreadsheet that is shared across the organization would probably be a fine solution. Even better would be if the business then uploaded that information into Tableau. This would bring a visual component to their report with a fairly low amount of effort.

DIY Disadvantages

This approach isn’t always the answer however. As more users started to use the spreadsheet, it would become bloated and difficult to share. The lack of a good user interface would also probably mean that the owner of the spreadsheet would start to spend more time explaining how to use it.

With the addition of more data, Tableau also can benefit from the kind of sound data management strategies that the average business user is not familiar with.

Sound Strategic Thinking

There are other reasons that DIY software solutions may not be the best fit for your business. Sound strategic thinking can also be a factor.

The following case illustrates why unassisted use of DIY tools doesn’t always work. As Mike from Brainzooming highlights, the organizer of an event created a post-event survey using SurveyMonkey for attendees to complete.

Custom Software: bad PlanningThe categories began with “very satisfied” on the left and progress towards “very dissatisfied” on the right. It’s not obvious to the layperson, but an expert in marketing research would have immediately recognized that these categories were in the opposite order from which surveys typically present them.

Respondents completing the survey may have made their choices based on habit, instead of actually reading the category headings before making their selection.

As a result, the results of this survey are unusable because the organizer has no way of knowing if the satisfaction ratings accurately reflect the respondents’ opinions. DIY tools failed in this case because the application required expertise in marketing research.

The bottom line on DIY custom software is that you should use and even embrace this option when it can provide you with an advantage over traditional methods of software development. However, you need to employ strategic thinking to ensure that your efforts provide the desired result.

For more on this topic, check out our series on the custom software buy versus build spectrum.


Nate Richards
Nate has over 18 years of software engineering and consulting experience. He founded Entrance in 2003. Nate is the past President of the Board of LifeHouse Houston, a Christ-centered maternity home ministry, and is past Executive committee member and Treasurer of Houston Achievement Place, a foster care and social skills training non-profit organization.
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