Custom versus Pre-Built Web Development

This is something that is bound to show up during the planning of a web development project.  Personally, I believe that depending on the situation, a pre-built solution can meet the needs of a business faster and with fewer development headaches then a custom built solution.  If your online business process is highly customized however then a pre-built solution may never meet the needs of your business and in which case it makes sense to develop a custom coded solution.  As a client it’s important to understand the difference between a custom coded solution versus modifying a pre-built solution to fit your business’ needs.

Why Re-invent the Wheel again?

The first question in say development a website is “Do we want to re-invent the wheel again?”  By this, I mean, there are many websites out there today, there are products to help you build, develop, maintain and optimize a website and then there’s you.  If you develop a website from an existing framework like WordPress or Magento this gives a couple of big benefits including…

  • Cutting down the development time
  • Having a standardized framework in place that increases quality of work
  • Lowering costs of development

What these 3 points can tell you is that in using a pre-built solution like WordPress means less development time (this of course depends on how much you want to further customize your website), you are working with a solution that has been heavily tested which again is a decrease on the time and cost involved in getting your website operational and lowering the cost of the overall development of your website because the functionality of most of what you are looking for is already available.

Get your Widgets

Depending on the pre-built solution that you’ve decided on there are a multitude of addons, widgets, plugins and extensions that help you “extend” the functionality of a pre-built solution into something that works well for your business.

One Solution does NOT fit all!

This is more of a cautionary point about solution development especially in web development and that is that one solution does NOT fill all.  You may have business processes that you want your website to achieve in order to do business online and these may not be so easy to solve by simply using a pre-built solution.  In this case normally custom coding (aka custom website development) is needed.  However, how do you go about doing this?  Do you simply make a point by point list of the functionality you want and give it to your web developer and hope for the best?  In a lot of cases this is exactly what happens as illustrated in conversation below…

Business Owner Guy: “Hello web guy!  I am looking for a solution that allows people to come to my website, make a virtual piece of toast, have their virtual avatar eat it and then deduct $1 from their user account securely”

Web Developer Guy: “Sure! I’ll send you a quote for my time, a mockup of the GUI and a timeline for the work involved.  Oh yeah and I’ll need a 110% deposit”

Business Owner Guy: “Awesome, Thanks… Is cash okay?”

Web Developer Guy: “Cash is wonderful!  Thanks!”

Now, a better way to go about doing this is…

Business Owner Guy: “Hey Web Guy!  I want a solution to help me sell buttons to wholesalers where they would go to my website, select a type of button that they like, choose a color and quantity and then allow them to laser emboss a picture on the button so that the customer can preview it”

Web Developer Guy: “Hold up a minute!  Let me understand this before I give you a quote and what you are looking for so that I can plan out this web development project and get you to sign off on it before we move forward”

Business Owner Guy: “That sounds great!”

Some of the big benefits of developing a custom solution this way are simply that there is a plan in place, requirements have been gathered, discussed and signed off on.  Naturally developing custom work can and will cost more and the risks and threats are such that timelines can become exceeded as new details are added (aka “scope creep”) and costs go up.  This is why planning is so important for anything from developing a website to building a deck.

So whichever way you choose to go about your web development project just remember that depending on what you are looking for in a pre-built versus custom web development there are any number of factors at play that can either work against you or to your business.

Luc Arnold

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