Large legacy enterprises have a data problem. Decades of iterative infrastructure updates via relatively small investments have resulted in information silos scattered across different systems and in different formats. For example, a hospital may have patient records in one location and accounting data in another. All of this data is managed by different teams with different needs, security requirements, and priorities. This isn’t a problem until a C-suite executive needs a new report ASAP or it’s time to develop a new product. Now you’re stuck: data across these systems cannot be integrated efficiently.

Some businesses will scramble to create a system that attempts to integrate these different formats. However, that rarely works as well in reality as it does in theory; getting the right data to the right people at the right time while maintaining your compliance and data security obligations has never been easy, and it is only getting more challenging as data privacy laws such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act go into effect. Company leaders must now make a big decision about their data: mold off-the-shelf software to their operations or build customized software from the ground up that specifically addresses their business needs.

Widely dispersed data in the cloud is putting companies at risk
The little dirty data secret

Customized vs. off-the-shelf
Working with off-the-shelf software may seem like the most efficient and affordable option in the short term, and often is if your business process is generic enough to fit within the workflow provided by the software. If you don’t get any business value from a custom process, then selecting something off-the-shelf for, say, time tracking is great! You don’t need every part of your business to give you a competitive advantage; sometimes, you just want it to work well and cheaply.

Off-the-shelf software starts to lose its appeal when you need to spend a lot of time and effort customizing it. Depending on the software in question, you can find yourself effectively implementing custom-built software using extremely dull tools. Often, easy changes are easy, while useful changes are at best time-consuming and expensive and at worst not possible.

Companies must truly own their software to better address what customers and employees need. Your competitive advantage is unique to your businesses, and that means that the software you are using to support that advantage is unlikely to be off-the-shelf. Your company’s value is based on what you do differently — and better — than the competition. Why cut corners? 

Custom client-facing software provides this value. It includes everything from tailored user experiences to smooth automated processes operating behind-the-scenes that collect detailed data, which can then further improve the customer experience. Your service is unique to your business, and your software should reflect that.

Own the future
Building custom software is choosing to own your future. We are no longer in a world where software is finished; even if the software was perfect when built, the enterprise is constantly evolving and changing around it. Your competition is constantly learning how to mitigate your advantage; the software that supports it also needs to be adapted to maintain your advantage. Off-the-shelf software isn’t going to be able to keep up. Custom software provides two significant advantages when done well: it can efficiently integrate and work with data from many sources, and it can be more easily maintained and operated to continue to provide value for the business as circumstances change.

How can enterprises implement the changes needed to bring their data into the 21st century? There are several approaches: build an entire software team internally, hire an outside consultancy to build custom software, or hire a core group of software experts internally who then work hand-in-hand with a consultancy. Any of these approaches can be effective; you can even use a consultancy to help build out your internal capability. What’s most important is that the team is focused on user outcomes, and delivers regularly and consistently.

Optimize connecting data and humans
Customized software better connects businesses with their overall goals. Data powers this strategy. To be successful, software teams must convincingly sell customized software to leadership, who may not immediately recognize its importance. For example, a building management company needlessly spends money heating or cooling its properties because data from automated systems are not properly used to maximize timers, thermostats, and more. Perhaps this arrangement was workable in the past. However, engineers who understand how to interpret and maximize the data proprietary software need to clearly relay the benefits to decision-makers. This leads to increased value and efficiency.

The costs of going with what’s “good enough” extend beyond newspaper headlines about security breaches brought on by obsolete software. Outdated accounting and internal communications systems, used at large enterprises across industries, can cause massive headaches and hundreds of hours lost even though that news might not breach company walls. Off-the-shelf software can inadvertently break patchwork, fossilized systems when data formats refuse to play nice. These issues regularly affect both the private and public sectors alike, as old software fails and data is lost. Now that data can’t be used to improve internal processes or service clients.

Instead of spending time looking backward, large enterprises must spend their time preparing for the future, strategizing the best ways to service their customers while simultaneously staying ahead of the competition. The business world evolves quickly and constantly. Investing now to create and maintain a robust and customized software system that’s optimized for a business’s specific data needs establishes a strong advantage and will pay dividends in the long run. 

The more data collected, the better companies become at discerning which information is useful and which isn’t. They can then start searching for data in places they may have overlooked before and by continuing to hone this information, companies can be converted from hoses into fine-tuned lasers. In the end, modernizing and harnessing data is a central pillar in building a strong foundation for the future.