Continuation of a series examining certain arguments for buying commercial software an minimally customizing it versus custom-developed software.g

Upgrade Treadmill

In the memo, the author says that a system used by the business is based on a commercial application and claims 90% of it is standard and 10% is customized. There’s no detail to justify that number, but suppose the software does 90% of what the customer needs. Left unmentioned in the memo is how much of the application is useful to the customer. In other words, what additional features and complexity is the business paying for with the application suite but not using? It’s unlikely that 100% of the features of a commercial application are used by any one customer – but can the business say it is using even 50% of them? Is that cost effective?

While the vendor’s support may help keep the business current with technology, how much are the vendor updates just a way to keep the upgrade treadmill running? How often does the vendor introduce an update where none of the new or changed functionality is useful to the business? What is the cost of being on the vendor’s development schedule, and how disruptive are upgrades? Worst of all, what happens when the vendor eliminates a feature that is key to the business?

Feature Creep

In the memo, the author asserts that there is a significant cost savings to purchasing vendor-supported applications, because the costs of development are spread across all the customers. That’s a bold assertion, but looking closer, to what extent is that cost savings eroded by the additional cost of features which are developed but not used in the business? Is the total cost of the software, including those elements useful to the business and those that are not, really less than a solution tailored to the business?