Bespoke Software or Commercial Product – The Choice Is Yours

Information Technology (IT) involves the processing of data and its subsequent dissemination. The term IT changed to ICT when Communications was added. The change in terminology reflected the merger of the technologies involved in data processing with older communications technologies such as the telephone, facsimile and video. Finding the appropriate ICT infrastructure for a business or organization usually involves Lifecycle Support Analysis (LSA) where all planned infrastructure is analysed in terms of its proposed life cycle, from acquisition through to redundancy. Installation, operation, maintenance, upgrades, decommissions and disposals are all phases in this process that must be planned and budgeted for.

Once the infrastructure is in place, the next decisions involve the acquisition of software applications required by the business. The decision to either purchase an off-the-shelf software solution or have one custom made for your business purposes can be a difficult one and depends on factors like budget, potential users, processes and timelines. There is also a choice that needs to be made between commercially available or Open Source and Free Software applications. Free Software (FS) means that the originator of the software has released it for use without any payment although users may be expected to pay costs of distribution of the software. In the event of modifications to the software users must make these available to the community at of the cost of distribution. Open Source (OS) software is not always free, and can be copyrighted. Authors of this software may charge fees. Any changes made to the code have to be made available to the public. Software models (OS and FS) do not necessarily mean no cost as all software incurs support costs and possibly also license fees. Since the progress of ICTs is continuous and not always predictable, software upgrades and fixes also need to be factored into the planning.

Following a comprehensive needs assessment including user consultations a decision can be reached as to whether a bespoke software application route will be followed or a commercially available product acquired. Bespoke software applications have the benefit of being tailor made for the processes and procedures existing in an organization. An example can be a document management system in a research facility where very specific and confidential information follows a strict process of approval in defined categories. User consultations can be used to extract user needs but also to obtain user buy-in before a new system is rolled out. A bespoke application will also consider jargon in use in the environment that will assist users in making a connection to the system.

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