10 Questions To Ask Before Replacing Your Custom Software

Aging software can be such a pain! Your business is running smoothly and then suddenly, you realize that this piece of software that someone built for you is starting to get old. It hasn’t been updated in a long time. The developer is either not responding to requests or they’re slow to do so. The trouble is that you truly rely on this software to manage your business. Maybe it runs your entire operation or perhaps it significantly improves certain aspects of it. Don’t worry! You’re not alone. The age-old question in technology – keep updating or replace it. It can be tricky to answer, so we’ve put together a few questions to ask yourself before you go down the path of a rebuild or replacement.

1. Does our custom software meet the needs of the business today?

This is such an important question to ask. In many cases, a custom built software has outlived its usefulness to a company. Processes have outpaced the software, so it no longer fits the business. On the other hand, in many cases, the software works exactly the way the business needs it to. Meticulous planning, process analysis, process mapping, careful thought and lots of time/money on development have gone into the application. It works great! If that’s the case, read on. It may be a better idea to revive this puppy versus replace it!

2. Will we grow out of it in the next three years?

Is your business on a rapid growth trajectory? If so, looking 3-5 years out is really important from a technology perspective. Will the business be able to continue on this software if the business doubles? If not, then it’s critical to look at alternatives, because software takes time to discover and implement. It is often a multi-year effort. However, if your business is growing at a reasonable rate (10-15% per year), and the answer to question 1 is yes, then it’s likely that this software will continue to serve you well over the next 3-5 years. You may still need to invest in it to accommodate new and improved processes, but the need to replace it really isn’t there.

3. Is my staff  happy with the software? How much will a transition to off-the-shelf impact their ability to do their jobs effectively? How much retraining will be required?

User adoption is such a critical part of software, whether it’s custom or off the shelf. If you’re looking at a replacement, we highly encourage you to conduct interviews with your staff to determine whether they are happy with the current software, as well as what they feel could be improved. Formal interviews can give you a very good sense for whether the software is working within the organization as well. If staff are happy with the product and the answer to question 1 is yes, then the level of effort to bring your staff into a new product may just not be worth it. Why fix what’s not broken??

4. How much intellectual property do we have wrapped up in the thing? Am I willing to throw away that effort and energy, just to do it again for something else?

As organizations grow, many leaders spend an enormous amount of time building and refining business processes. Those processes often end up built into these custom software applications. This means that the software works exactly as the business does, which create an extremely efficient working environment. A challenge is created when owners neglect to reinvest in that software through continuous maintenance and updates. Would you buy a car and never do regular maintenance? Of course not, however for some reason, people see software differently and don’t reinvest in the the upkeep. (check out blog on reasons why software should be kept up to date). Here’s the scary part – most of that valuable time spent on integrating business processes into the software is lost when a custom application is replaced. Meaning that the time must be spent to build those processes into the next interaction. If that’s off-the-shelf, chances are that the product will not be able to be as efficient as your product. If it’s a complete rebuild and you aren’t using your original software as a guide, you’re throwing away a ton of IP (Intellectual Property) that is extremely valuable to the business. This is definitely something to consider before replacing your custom software.

5. Am I looking at a replacement because I don’t have a reliable development team to maintain and update my current software? 

Managing and maintaining custom software can be hard. Particularly if you don’t understand software development. You must rely on an individual or team to take your business requirements and convert them into a functioning application. Unfortunately, you won’t really know if  what has been built is of high quality. You won’t know if the application will continue to perform when the company scales. And if that person leaves then you’re left in a position where you have no one to support it because they hold all the knowledge. It’s a scary place to be in. Not knowing what to do in a situation like that can often lead business owners to look for alternatives to their custom software. 

6. Am I looking at a replacement because the custom software is severely out of date and I’m afraid of how much it will cost to bring it current?

Cost is always a critical factor in any business decision, and software maintenance is no exception. The cost of updating your software can seem intimidating, but it’s crucial to consider the potential cost of not doing so. This includes the risk of security breaches, inefficient operations, and potentially high repair costs in case of a software crash. Also, compare this to the cost of replacing the software entirely, which could involve license fees, implementation costs, and the time and resources spent on staff training and transition.

7. Are there legitimate off-the-shelf options that meet the need of the business?

While off-the-shelf software may have the appeal of lower cost and broader community support, it’s critical to assess if these options genuinely meet your business’s specific needs. Take into consideration that these options are designed to cater to a broader audience and might lack the necessary customizations your business relies on. A detailed feature comparison between your custom software and potential replacements will help guide this decision.

8. How much time, energy and money will need to go into the implementation and customization of the off-the-shelf option?

Implementing a new software solution isn’t just about the upfront cost. It includes the time taken to adapt to the new system, retraining staff, migrating data, and any potential disruption to your business operations. In addition, you may also need to spend on customizing the off-the-shelf product to suit your specific business needs, which can significantly increase the total cost.

9. What is the quality of the implementor of the off-the-shelf product team? What is their track record? Can they prove that they have successfully implemented this product? Can they prove that they meet budgets and deadlines? Are recent customers really happy with results?

Understanding the quality of the vendor and their track record is vital in making this decision. You need to have confidence that they can deliver on their promises. Ask for case studies, customer testimonials, and any data that shows they have a history of successful implementations. Ensure they have a robust support system in place for any post-implementation issues.

10. Do I have clarity on what the end result of a replacement will look like?

Last but not least, it’s important to have a clear vision of what the replacement will achieve for your business. You should have a detailed plan and timeline, with set objectives and outcomes. Also consider what the potential consequences could be if the transition doesn’t go as planned. Without a clear understanding of what you’re working towards, you risk investing a lot of time, money, and effort into a solution that may not deliver the results you’re hoping for.

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