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From time to time I come across embroidery and screen print businesses where the owner or an employee or family member has developed their own custom software program for running the business.   These programs always have at least one major advantage for that company—they reflect that company’s unique way of doing business, down to terminology and methods and processes. This makes these programs convenient for the users and effective for doing the company’s particular mix of business. They believe that their custom development approach is better than buying commercially available industry specific software. I don’t attempt to dissuade them—they have long-since invested too much to think otherwise. To be fair, there may be compelling reasons to develop custom software.  But given the high cost of custom development, any company going that route had better have deep pockets and lots of time.

Consider these factors before you chose the custom route:

1.       Opportunity cost. Shakespeare captured the fleeting nature of opportunity when he wrote, ”There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyages of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” Make the most of your investment in your decoration business by pouring yourself into it. Every hour spent on your computer system is an hour taken from your primary business. If software development is your passion, sell your decoration business and become a programmer.

2.       EmbTrak, like every other software development company, rarely develops the systems we use to run our own business. We bought JIRA software for managing issues and projects. We bought Perforce for managing code versions. We use Joomla for our web site. We bought an off the shelf accounting package. We bought an off the shelf CRM. In other words, we focus our precious development talent on developing the best decoration business software and nothing else.   If software developers find it makes business sense to only write products for sale, why would a decorator write their own software?

3.       Anything developed by a business for itself is going to reflect its own narrow history and set of experiences.   Commercial software developers work hard to gather experience and input from the entire industry they service. The end result is more likely to be true “Best of Breed” software reflecting the best practices and most competitive thinking available.

4.       Custom development is more expensive and time consuming than most people can imagine. A few years ago, after concluding an agreement with a major apparel brand, I asked the top manager why they elected to throw out their in-house developed decoration system and go with EmbTrak. Her answer: “We spent well into six figures and five years with offshore developers creating that system and it was still nothing more than a ‘baby’ version of EmbTrak.”

5.       Add up the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for off the shelf industry specific software versus custom development.   Consider the time to implement each. An industry specific system may not use all your specific terms and may require that you change some of your ways. But when you add it all up, ask yourself, “Which approach is best for the business?”

Tom Peters put it this way in his award winning book, In Search of Excellence: “Stick to the knitting.” In other words, winning companies focus on what they do best.  If you’re a decorator, focus all your efforts on being the best decorator you can possibly be. Therein lies the key to success.

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