Your organisation has made the decision to take the leap and join the industry 4.0 revolution. You have identified the need for an IoT solution to supercharge your organisation. And now you’ve got a million choices to make. But you can essentially narrow it down to two: Should you get a custom IoT solution, or should you simply go for an off-the-shelf solution, produced for the mass market? Before you make this decision, there are many things you need to consider. Let’s go through it.
What is a custom IoT solution, and what is an off-the-shelf IoT solution?
As the name implies, custom IoT solutions are specifically designed for your unique needs. First, you choose a software development company and talk about your requirements. The team at the development company along with your team comes up with features and specifications that can solve your pain points. Then you go through the complete software development process(prototype, MVP, final product, etc) and they deliver the solution to you. This is of course an oversimplification, but you get the general picture.
In the case of an off the shelf solution, you look into solutions offered by different vendors, compare the pricing, the features they’re offering, purchase it and implement it. Depending on the solution and the vendor, some level of customization may be possible. Even for off-the-shelf solutions, the vendor may provide integrations to your existing infrastructure as part of the package. But a solution produced for the mass market probably won’t have all the features you want.
So should you choose a custom solution, or should you get something off the shelf?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. As mentioned earlier, there are many factors that come into this equation, and the answer varies according to your unique situation. Let’s break down these factors, and see what all applies in your situation.
Cost: Custom IoT solution v/s off-the-shelf IoT solution
No kidding, the initial cost for a custom solution will be way higher. Unlike mass-market solutions, custom solutions are made just for you, and that’s going to cost a bit. By contrast, the initial cost of an off-the-shelf solution will be much less. Simply because the vendor can afford to, since they’re selling the software to many people.
But in the long run, a custom solution may be cheaper. The IP for a custom solution will be yours, there won’t be any subscription fees involved. And you only have to pay for what you need, and exactly what you need. In the case of mass-market solutions, there may be yearly or annual subscription fees, since most vendors are going for the SaaS model now.
In case of maintenance, most vendors offer free bug fixes for a specific period after delivery. And in reality, if there are any major bugs, those would be found out within this period. The same is true for an off-the-shelf solution as well. But in case of a subscription model, you can expect customer support throughout the subscription period. But honestly, how many times have you had to talk to customer support after the first three months or so?
As you can expect, an off-the-shelf solution can be deployed real quick, while a custom solution will take time to develop, test, and deploy.
But deployment is likely to go more smoothly for custom software. While developing the software, all use case, all the integrations, all of them have been already taken into account. In the case of an off-the-shelf solution, issues may come up that wasn’t expected. You may realise that the solution doesn’t fit with the workflow within your organisation. Or sometimes you’ll find that there are some compatibility issues with your existing systems.
The level of security that you can expect from a solution varies to a large extent upon the vendor. But as a rule of thumb, custom solutions are more secure than mass-market products.
Picture this, you can get into any system given enough time and resources. One of the principles in designing any security system is that the resources you need to break the system should be more than what you’d get by breaking into the system. If a bank vault is storing $20 million, a thief should need more than that to break into the system.
Now cracking into a mass-market solution means you can get into any user using the solution. So it’s more likely your efforts are going to pay off. By cracking into a custom solution, all that effort, and you may gain nothing. So attackers are more likely to target mass-market solutions.
But of course, this also depends on the vendor and their security practices.
Scalability is an important factor as your business grows. Many solutions developed for the mass market does offer easy scalability. But generally, a custom solution is more easily scalable, and of course, you can design it for easy scalability.
And for off-the-shelf solutions, scalability may come at extra cost. For example, most solutions are limited to a certain number of users. Additional users come at additional cost.
When I say product quality I mean how aligned the product will be to your business requirements. How good software or a solution will be, of course, depends on the vendor.
But with a custom solution, it will have all the features you’ll need, and none you don’t need. When a vendor is building a commercial off the shelf product, they consider all the possible use case for it. They’ll be building a product for all of their target customers. But chances are they’d have missed a couple of features that you specifically you need. And this applies to any vendor. With an off-the-shelf product, you’ll be making some compromises in terms of the features. And there will be some features you don’t want.
This won’t be an issue with a custom solution.
Get a custom IoT solution if you
- want a perfect fit for your organisation
- want easy scalability
- are looking at low costs in the long term
Get an off-the-shelf solution
- If you have a low budget
- If a good enough solution is available