Whether discussing software or shelving, the word ‘custom’ is generally associated with high price tags, but that it a common misconception in our industry. When asked “how much does a custom software project cost?” our first, and shortest answer is, not as much as you think. Technology has evolved rapidly over the years, and these projects don’t have the same sticker shock that they used to. You may be surprised to hear that custom software can often be the more economical option. Our second answer is a bit longer, and understandably so. Each project is unique and comes with its own set of requirements. But rather than focusing on cost, it may be more beneficial to focus instead on the software’s ROI. That will give you the most comprehensive picture of any software’s feasibility and profitability.It’s About Finding the Right SolutionWhen an organization is interested in custom software, it is because they have a need to fill, and custom solutions are like a square peg in a square hole, they are designed to be perfectly integrated into the workflow. The resulting efficiency means that a well-designed solution should save you money long-term. They also typically increase process automation, freeing up your headcount to other tasks.Off-the-shelf Means Ongoing ProblemsIf we continue our analogy from above, think about pre-packaged, or off-the-shelf software as oval pegs that you are trying to squeeze into that same square hole. It just doesn’t work very well. The resulting solution generally leaves gaps in the process and can create more, not less, work for your team in the long run. The modifications and customizations needed to make these solutions fit into your workflow can sometimes translate into astronomical up-front costs as well. So don’t assume an off-the-shelf solution will be cheaper than the custom option, because it just isn’t necessarily the case.Make an ROI StoryThe best way to understand the cost of a custom software project, or any software project, is to do an ROI story. At Dobler Consulting, we believe that any software project should have an ROI story to understand the budget and benefits of proceeding with the project. If a system does not have an ROI that can be measured, don’t do it.If the proposed software doesn’t improve sales, save time, or save money, then there is no reason for it to be implemented. If it does, then that can be projected, quantified, and measured. Will your system increase sales by a certain percentage? Will you achieve certain economic scales to lower your cost of goods? All of these factors should go into the ROI story, and that will allow you to make informed decisions about cost at the beginning of the project.Do a Requirements SessionOnce you have created your ROI story you are in a good position to understand the cost/benefit of any proposed project. This is a great time to do a requirements session with your developer to scope out the software. A requirements session is a small investment for understanding the true scope of your software. By spending a little bit up front you will be able to make an informed decision about your project.The requirements session should take roughly 4-8 weeks for a reasonable sized system. During this process you and your developers will define the requirements; boundaries, business rules, and system inputs. At the end of the requirements session you will have eliminated a vast majority of your unknowns and are then at a point to understand a realistic schedule and cost expectation. Generally, by the end of a requirement session you should know within about a 10% margin what your cost will be for the system.Custom software is more cost effective than you realize. If you have a business problem and are considering a software solution, be cautious about dismissing custom options out of hand. Take a little bit of time to create your ROI story, talk to a software consultant or development team and figure out if custom software might not save you money after all.Dobler Consulting LLC is a leading provider of database services, premier software development, and information technology support. Our clients range from small businesses to FORTUNE companies across multiple industry verticals. For more information about how Dobler Consulting can help you incorporate custom software development into your business processes, visit DoblerConsulting.com or call us at +1 (813) 322-3240 (US) /+1 (416) 646-0651 (Canada).