Boxed Software vs Custom – What Works For Your Business?

Custom Software-Emkal

The boxed (off-the-shelf) vs custom software debate has been a tricky one for many businesses. As an organization grows, its needs become more complex and its employees become more diverse and specialized. In time, every business must decide between custom and off-the-shelf software. 

To help you decide which route may be better to achieve your business objectives, we are considering the pros and cons of off-the-shelf and custom software. Speak to your IT consulting & services provider to determine which software will be better for your company.

What is ‘boxed’ or off-the-shelf software?

Off-the-shelf software is what is ‘manufactured’ by a third-party software developer. It is designed to meet the needs of businesses of an entire industry. The software of some of the biggest companies, such as Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM caters to millions of businesses around the world.

Are your business processes standard enough such that they can be handled by mainstream software?


Low initial investment – Off-the-shelf software requires a lower initial investment compared to custom solutions.

Supported by the developer – Your company does not need to invest in developing and upgrading the software. Widely available software also comes with more rigorous testing.

Rapid deployment – Installing and configuring the software is a relatively seamless process. Your business can start using the software within a short time of procuring it.

Lower technical expertise required – Given the limited options to customize mainstream software, you do not require extensive modification to your company IT infrastructure to keep the software functioning.


Missing features – Mainstream software is normally overloaded with features of no relevance to your business, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be gaps in functionality. Off-the-shelf may not align with your workflow or may simply lack a feature-set you need.

Licensing fees – Though the initial cost of acquisition may be lower, licensing fees for using it on multiple systems can make it quite expensive. The annual costs of using boxed software can work out to be quite high.

Managed IT support services – Your IT support team will take longer to troubleshoot issues due to the ‘walled’ nature of the software and lack of public availability of the source code.

What is custom software?

Custom software is designed by an IT consulting & services company for a business’s unique needs. It is designed to fit seamlessly with your company’s IT infrastructure and meet your specific needs.

Will your business benefit from a custom solution that more closely matches your workflow?


Enhanced productivity – Because custom software is designed for your organization and workflow, it can help streamline processes, speed up tasks and enable tighter collaboration between team members.

Adding functionality – Work with the software developer directly to have functionality and features added. You also don’t have to wait powerlessly for irregular feature updates from a large software company.

Cost-effective – Though the initial investment for custom software is more than for boxed software, a custom solution can save a business enormously in licensing fees. As the number of users increases, custom software will offer much better value.

Training and support – Your team is trained directly by the developer. Training manuals and materials are customized for your use case and are much more relevant to your business.


Upfront cost – The initial investment in custom software is higher compared to boxed software. Ask for all-in pricing for software development, support and maintenance so you can perform an informed cost analysis to contrast it against boxed software.

Feature changes may be billed – Requesting feature updates and modifications to the software may be billable; the software may invite a monthly maintenance fee which should be discussed with the developer upfront.

Reliance on the developer – If the developer does not invest in its own resources, it can cause the software to become incompatible with modern technologies in the market. Be sure to ask how the software will be supported in the years to come.

Lack of community support – Since the software has a limited user-base, there will be no community support and few options for self-help. Before you sign a contract, set the expectation that you require clear and thorough documentation, such as an end user guide and basic troubleshooting procedures.

IT Consulting & Services

EMKAL works with businesses in Guelph and beyond to fulfill off-the-shelf and custom software needs. Our in-house team of software developers has helped businesses realize efficiencies with custom software, such as remote manifest printing and inventory tracking systems. Our managed IT support services make sure your downtime is kept to a minimum and your operations are not hampered by software issues. 

Speak to an EMKAL representative to learn more.

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