Over the past few years, there’s been an explosion of custom development in the consulting world. While it wasn’t unheard of in the server-based past, now it seems like custom development comes up with almost every company we talk to, whether they’re already in the cloud or just started moving there.
That’s a good trend. Custom development is part of the larger cloud toolbox. It goes hand in hand with other considerations such as training, security, existing solutions, and general knowledge of the cloud. It’s only going to get more popular, especially as more “no-code” platforms become available (like Microsoft Power Apps) that lower the barrier to development. Development, of course, can be a lot more than just desktop apps now.
So, why is custom development so popular now? Turns out, there are a whole host of reasons, from better technology to companies recognizing their unique needs.
What Is Custom Development?
Custom development can feel like a bit of a misleading term nowadays. In short, it means exactly what it sounds like: any development or programming done on behalf of a company. Instantly, your mind probably jumps to a few things:
- Desktop and mobile apps
- Setting up servers to handle complex data aggregation and decision making
- Using AI to automate business processes
Yes, those things do fall under custom development. But they’re the big items, the huge projects that take a whole team of developers to work through and months to develop even the most basic form. I’d wager that most custom development projects are much smaller, and include things such as:
- Extending existing platforms
- Transferring processes from paper to digital
- Creating forms and portals
These are projects that might not seem like development at first, especially if they don’t involve coding. And it’s true, sometimes development projects don’t involve coding. In fact, lots of companies (Microsoft included) are investing in “no-code” platforms that remove some of the traditional barriers to development, like hardware and programming knowledge. However, even with code, it’s still development. Development is, after all, a broader discipline than just coding. Programming languages, “no-code” platforms, custom hardware – these are all just tools for a developer to use.
Looking at our previous definition of custom development, all these projects still fit. We just need to expand the scope a bit on what “development” means:
Development is creating, extending or customizing software to match specific needs. And combining that definition with our definition of custom development creates a pretty simple sentence: Custom development is creating, extending, or customizing software to match a company’s needs. Which, honestly, sounds like something any company could use.
When Does A Company Need Custom Development?
At this point, with almost all companies living in a remote-first world, the conversation around software has changed. Since we no longer need to worry about compatibility (everything runs in a web browser), buy-in (most services charge based on user count), or expertise (no more manuals!), we’ve found that our pool of software choices has grown exponentially. Scoping down that pool to the software that makes the most sense for a company is a different conversation altogether. However, we find that eventually we end up with two or three choices that almost match our needs exactly. That’s almost where custom development comes in.
Every company is unique. It’s a combination of people, process, location, industry, and a hundred other factors that lead to that uniqueness. And, in our experience, you can’t expect to find a piece of software that matches every facet of your company. You can look at matrixes of features and list out your requirements and processes (all things that you should be doing) but at the end of the day, you’re not going to tick all the boxes. If you’re lucky, you’ll get 90% of the way there and realize that the last 10% doesn’t matter. Or, you’ll take a hard look at your processes, your data handling, and come out the other side knowing the last 10% is important. It could be:
- You’ve customized your information with non-standard data points
- Your processes are unique and need to be digitized properly
- Your business case is unique, and you need to maintain it to give you an edge
If that’s the case, you probably need some form of custom development. Of course, remembering that custom development isn’t just programming. We’re not talking about adding new features to the product you’re using. It could be that you have two services that match all your needs and you need them to communicate. Or, custom development could transform your data from one schema to another (we’ve done a lot of moves from other storage services to SharePoint Online, for example). In some cases, maybe it is an extension of a product, like a custom Microsoft Teams app or a Salesforce connector. Whatever it is, if your company needs it and it truly gives you the edge, chances are you won’t find it out there already made.
Why Has Custom Development Become So Popular?
Coming back to our first question, we’ve looked at two major reasons why custom development has become more popular: An expanded scope, and companies looking for unique answers. Really quickly, I wanted to talk about two other factors. We’ve noticed them here at Regroove and see them as part of a greater trend.
The first is that custom development, and in fact, development in general, has become simpler and cheaper over the past ten years. Especially if you’re talking about small scale development like we are here, whether its a microservice or a small internal tool.
You can point to lots of different developments that led to simpler development: the rise of the cloud; specific technologies like node.js; more and more services aimed at automating the annoying parts of development like simpler hosting through Azure and AWS or “no-code” platforms like Microsoft Power Automate. The result is that starting new development projects and maintaining existing ones have never been easier.
The second shift is that businesses are more interested than ever in the “why” behind what they do. In almost all conversations we have with our customers, we end up taking a step back and looking at the processes behind what they’re asking for. In our own role as consultants, we’re there to help steward an idea or process along and use our expertise to make sure that we’ve considered everything. Since we usually work with customers going through a cloud transition, we’re primed to have these conversations and help figure out what would benefit the client the most, custom development or not.
Custom development is something that almost any company can benefit from. Like anything else, it’s a tool and should be used in situations where it makes the most sense. The trick is to remember that custom development isn’t just about apps. It’s electronic forms, connected services, customized software, electronic process, and can be anything else that makes your company unique (and hey, maybe that’s a full app or a progressive web app).
Custom development is simpler than ever before, but it isn’t always the solution. It’s a tool that solves some pretty unique problems.
Here at Regroove, we only reach for custom development when we need it. However, we also bring it up with every customer, even if it’s just to dismiss it. If you’re looking for some help with a process, or need an internal tool, consider reaching out to us. Or, if you want to see some projects we’ve working on in the past, we have lots of case studies that cover both public and private development projects we’ve worked on. You can find those here.