How to Transition from an Off-the-Shelf Solution to Custom Technology

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Cynthia  Gandarilla

Marketing Manager

Cynthia Gandarilla

As a scaling company, you need a flagship platform that attracts users and distinguishes you from the competition. And if you’ve been using a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software for your MVP, it may be time to switch to a custom-built solution.

But what are the common problems that a company might encounter with a COTS solution?

First, remember that COTS solutions are made to solve common issues that many companies have, not the specific problems that your company is experiencing. COTS may be great to support your MVP, but as you scale the unique problems you encounter will be difficult to solve with a one-size-fits-all solution.

Second, COTS is cheaper because it’s generic. As your company scales, you will need customization that would be costly and time-consuming for the COTS provider to implement. Unless many companies have the same customization issues, it is unlikely that new functionality will be added to address your problems. Even if the features you need are available, customization adds fees that add up over time, making the solution more expensive than your original expectations.

Finally, COTS software often has limited functionality and offers generic templates for all customers. Not only can a generic theme damage your brand, but you’re likely to end up with features you don’t need (and are paying for regardless). Then you have to find ways to disable or hide those features that don’t serve your users. Often, you may have to resort to some hacks to build or add customizations that aren’t exposed by default.

If you’ve outgrown your COTS software, it’s time to invest in a custom-built application. Here are the steps you need to take to set the foundation for successful custom software.

Define the Jobs to Be Done

Job to Be Done (JTBD) is a framework meant to help focus you and your team on innovating effectively. This approach uses needs statements to define what jobs the customer is “hiring” for, making it easier for the company to design products and services that meet those needs.

As Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt noted, the JTBD framework clarifies that consumers don’t want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. That distinction helps companies refine what they offer, guiding teams to ask the right questions.

To use JTBD, product teams ask three simple questions: What is the customer’s situation? What is their motivation? And what is their desired outcome? The answers are then put together in a single statement that follows this outline: When I (situation), I want to (motivation), so I can (outcome).

A sample JTBD statement is: “When it’s time for my company to scale, I want to find a fast but sustainable path to market so I can avoid delays and wasted resources.”

Clarifying a JTBD statement can take time and testing, but it will guide your programming once it’s defined. The complexity of these statements will heavily influence your decision of COTS vs. custom-built.

Revisit Your Product Strategy

Once you’ve refined your JTBD statements, you can revisit your product strategy to identify which features your customers will need. The need for new features will arise as customers use your product and provide feedback. Your product team should incorporate new insights from customer feedback, evaluating if new features need to be added and how to prioritize them.

Product strategy must also incorporate updating business objectives, expanding into new markets, and changing stakeholder priorities. Remember, your product strategy is dynamic and represents the evolving needs of your customers and business.

These changing needs will challenge you to evaluate if your COTS software is sufficient or if it is time to invest in a custom-built application. (But keep in mind, as your product and your product strategy become more sophisticated, you’ll likely need a custom-built application that reflects plan revisions.)

Re-examine Your Technical Capabilities

Your technical capabilities must support your customer, product strategy, and company growth goals. Therefore, once you decide to switch from COTS to custom, you’ll need to dive into your technical architecture, tech stack, people, and tools to see if you have the foundation to support a significant change.

Your current architecture may have been fine for your MVP, but a robust custom-built platform may require a new infrastructure. Unfortunately, some companies start to scale and realize their tech foundation is not prepared to grow with them. They may also find that their tech stack is insufficient to support a new platform, or they lack the tools to build or sustain the new platform.

Investing in your tech is crucial to scale successfully, but making the right investments is equally critical. A custom-built platform requires an advanced technical architecture. So don’t skip the steps to evaluate your user needs and technical capabilities to be sure you’re building the right project.

This can be an area where it’s helpful to bring in some third-party help to evaluate your current technology capabilities and advise you of any needed changes.

Engage Experts

You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why third-party experts can be helpful when it’s time to scale. They can help you navigate switching from COTS to custom so you can develop a sustainable flagship platform your customers love.

Third-party experts can help you navigate potential areas that include:

Customer needs

An outside team can give you the fresh perspective you need to ensure you’re addressing the right customers with the right products and that your product strategy is sound.

Stakeholder interests

Your custom-built application results from your product team and stakeholders who have a vested interest in the outcome. Accurately prioritizing customer, team, and stakeholder needs is vital to staying on track.

Development priorities

It can seem that everything is a priority, but creating a vision that’s technically feasible means choosing what’s most important. Third-party experts can help you prioritize the features of your custom-built platform, so the development process is focused, effective, and delivered on time.

Technical expertise

You will need people who understand your vision, product strategy, and business objectives. Third-party custom development experts bring years of expertise to the table to ensure your platform gets developed right the first time. The right partner will also upskill your team, preparing them to maintain internal ownership of your flagship platform for the long term.

Quality and performance

Quality and performance cannot be an afterthought; they must be built into your custom product from day one. Third-party experts have the tools and experience to make sure your platform is designed well and tested for the rigors of real-world use.

Preparing for a custom-built application is essential for growing companies, but has to be done right. Making the switch is easier when you have expert help to foresee the challenges in your development plan.

If you’re ready to grow and need help getting your custom digital product built and ready for your end users, DockYard can help. Get in touch today to learn how we can help you reach your unique goals.


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