Bespoke software: more affordable than you think

Most people are unaware how far the cost of software has dropped in recent years. There still seems to be a perception from the days of mainframes when it would cost a few thousand pounds to generate a new report. We all know how much cheaper it is to create a spreadsheet but the cost of programming has almost dropped as much.

Also, a bespoke application will provide a much better solution and be more efficient. So after a few months a bespoke solution can actually cost less than a spreadsheet.

Why use bespoke software

To be successful, an organisation needs a competitive advantage. It needs to do something differently and better. This will be constrained by off the shelf software. There are many opportunities from creative use of processes and customer interfacing. Organisations do not become great by following everybody else.

Spreadsheets will normally be the best way to provide a one-off solution but they are not convenient. For any application that has to be run regularly they are inefficient. The staff costs in using a spreadsheet will be higher that with tailored apps. In the long term, a bespoke solution will almost always be better value.

Also, while your staff are developing spreadsheets, they aren’t doing their main job.

Why has the cost dropped so much?

There are a number of reasons, including:

  • Modern programming languages like PHP are much more efficient than older languages like Cobol and Basic
  • SQL databases enable data tables to be created and modified in minutes rather than days.
  • Manipulation of data typically only takes a few lines of SQL
  • PCs and development tools
  • Better techniques, object orientation haa slashed debugging times.
  • Programmers’ wages have not kept pace with inflation.

There’s a chilling perspective here. In the 1970s I had to add some fields to a database and change the length of the main key field. It took a team of programmers six months. A similar exercise last year took about 3 hours.

See more tips on deploying software at and

I want to write an app: Where do I start?

Computing Platform

The first decision is which platform you will use to run your app.  The principal modern platforms are PC, Apple Mac and mobile devices (phones and pads).  Some applications are delivered as web services and there are also games consoles.  Think about who will use your app and the devices they will want to use.  Web based apps have the advantage that they can be used on all devices.

Both Apple and Android provide software development kits that provide many facilities that relieve the programmer of much of the work.  These are available as free downloads.

What sort of user?

Do not forget that different people have very different attitudes to technology. Some people love playing with games consoles and smart phones. Some always want fashionable devices. At the other extreme, many people dislike anything technical and just want to do a job. Make sure you cater for what your customers want.

Your mother’s friends have smart phones now!

What sort of app?

There are lots of different types of app.  For example:

  • business
  • games
  • education and training
  • widgets

Their users have different needs and expectations. You need to tailor the way your app looks and works for them.

How to write the app?

If you are writing for a mobile device (phone or pad), you need the development kit for the device.  For Apple, that is Cocoa, for Android it is Eclipse.  If you are writing for a PC, the main choices are Visual Basic (VB) or Visual C.  The main ways to develop web apps are PHP or Microsoft ASP.  PHP is probably easier to use, it is open source and available as a free download.

This post is taken from “How to Write Software for Sale” – available in Kindle format from Amazon for 99p (UK) or $1.43 (rest of the world):

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John McMillan

John writes and talks on technology and advises companies on developing and marketing software products. He is the author of Kindle books How to write software for sale and How to market yout business. He has 30 years’ experience in the IT industry and has enabled several bodies to sell their knowledge through computer applications. He has been employed as a consultant by public bodies and by universities.