Indepth: Using Software to Improve your Business

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Using Software to Improve your BusinessFor many businesses, installing good software can be a very successful method to improve efficiency, effectiveness and competitiveness. But getting the right software for your business is not always a straightforward process. Many businesses also find themselves constrained by their existing software - or don't know what it's fully capable of.

Off-the-shelf Software

"Off-the-shelf" software packages often sound like an ideal approach as it feels like you can simply install it via a CD and start using it, and in many cases this is indeed true. With accountancy packages, for example, it's nearly always a good idea to use off-the-shelf software such as Sage as accounting systems are standardised and well-defined.

But for many other applications a package will usually require compromises to be made. They might not work in a way which suits your business, in which case you will either have to try and fit your business processes around the package, or get specific "add-on" code written for your particular application. Both routes are fraught with difficulty, can be very costly and rarely work well in practice.

Bespoke Software Development

The alternative to "off-the-shelf" software is to have a program written specifically to meet your business needs – the bespoke approach. This might seem more expensive, but as it is written to meet your needs, the implementation is more straightforward and can better fit in with your normal working practices. So the overall cost to the business can be less than a purchased package.

The benefits are also greater. Often, every competitor in an industry has exactly the same software package. But if you have a bespoke system written, then you have a genuine opportunity to get a significant competitive edge over your competitors. Also, by tailoring it to your specific needs, you can create the efficient, smooth running business processes that you know you need.

Remember though that good bespoke software is as much about identifying the business problems and opportunities as it is about writing efficient software.

Existing Systems

Many companies, especially when they are new, create "mini-systems" operating on spreadsheets or packages such as Sage. Then, as they grow, it starts to become clumsy and difficult to manage. These systems can often be vastly improved by consulting a software expert as they might, for example, recommend replacing them with a simple database system which will be more effective yet just as simple to operate and flexible in use.

Although a major bespoke software development project can dramatically change a business and its future potential, this isn't always needed, as our case studies from Riedel Crystal and Sterling International demonstrate.