If you’re thinking about building your own app or other specialist software, we know the number of options and things you’ll need to consider can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together this piece outlining the best way to approach it.

These are the top ten things to think about when you’re building your own bespoke software.

1. What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?

A lot of businesses tend to start with a solution before they really know why they need it. It’s easy to say “we need an app because our competitors have one,” for instance. But if your competitors created theirs with a deep understanding of the issue their users are facing, and you don’t, it will be difficult for your solution to be anywhere near as successful.

However, if you take time to understand the problem your business is facing or the issue your users/customers are encountering, you can apply empathy to innovation and create a product that puts the user first. That’s why this question should be your first consideration for app and software development.

2. Get a solid idea of how to solve the problem

Once you’ve taken time to understand your users’ issues (whether they’re in-house staff or prospective customers), the second consideration for app and software development is working out the type of software you’ll need to solve them and the specific features they will need to do so.

There are many options to consider here. For instance:

  • Looking at competing brands’ software to understand whether your ideas are on the right track
  • Employing user research to get a feel for what users of your current system like and dislike about it, how they feel about other software in that space, and what features they would like to see from your solution
  • Workshopping with your team to get a better understanding of their understanding of the audience and potential features they feel might serve that demographic
  • Working with an external partner who has the expertise to help you direct all of the above and is able to offer their own suggestions

Taking the results here and whittling them down to the most useful and relevant will help you move onto the next step of the process.

3. Research your options

Now you’ve taken time to understand the problem and delved into the features your new software will need to help solve it, you should look into the kinds of solutions available to you.

These include a choice between:

  • In-house development: Is your team resourced and skilled to develop the project? If so, keeping it in-house could be the ideal solution
  • External development: This carries the benefits of outside expertise plus more flexibility to scale up or down on resources as the project progresses

If external development option feels right, that then presents three further options for how to pursue it:

  • Offshore development: working with a developer in another country and time zone, which is sometimes more cost-effective than working with a local team
  • Onshore development: partnering with a local company who are more accessible owing to the lack of time differential
  • Nearshore development: sometimes the ideal middle ground between onshore and offshore. Working with a foreign developer in the same or a nearby time zone can deliver some of the savings of offshore, together with the accessibility of an onshore partnership.

4. Take time to outline the constraints of your project

This step involves taking time to understand all of the factors that your project software partner will need to think about. These might include:

  • Your budget
  • Your timelines
  • Legacy systems and compatibility with them
  • Technologies used by your intended audience
  • Your own availability for meetings, catch-ups and ongoing feedback
  • And more…

5. Which features are the most important?

The next of our ten steps to bespoke software design will see you deciding on a hierarchy of features.

This is useful because your software might not necessarily need to launch with every feature you identified at step two above. If getting a product to market fast is your priority, then defining the main features and creating a roadmap for adding the other ones later can be a very viable strategy.

There are several approaches which you might want to consider at this stage, including:

  • Agile development: This approach is designed to allow developers and stakeholders to work together closely by removing the barriers of lengthy processes. It lets developers and client cooperate to produce software quickly, iterate rapidly, and explore features dynamically.
  • CI/CD: Standing for Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery, developers taking advantage of a CI/CD approach use automation tools to speed up the integration of new code. This allows them to monitor progress, test rapidly for security and compliance, and deliver feature-rich software in a fraction of the time of old approaches – especially when used within an agile approach.

6. Integration with existing systems

This can be a crucial step if the software you’re creating is designed to solve an in-house need. Two good examples are projects you’ll find in amongst our case studies:

Ark Data Centres Secure Client Self-Service Portal

Needing an easy, intuitive way for clients to administer their own access controls to data centres without resorting to phone calls or email, Ark also wanted any solution to integrate with the Microsoft SharePoint system they used in-house, and work across a range of Cloud-compatible devices.

Our solution was to build the new portal using Microsoft’s .NET Core 3.1 Framework, allowing for SharePoint integration, while also responsively adapting to laptop, tablet and phone screens.

NHS Central Eastern Commissioning Support Unit Anonymous Issue Reporting System

Wanting to improve services, NHS Central Eastern CSU realised it needed to gather truly authentic feedback from both patients and employees about issues they’d encountered.

In order to facilitate that, any new system needed to be truly anonymous, allowing everyone concerned to submit comments and complaints – and all within an application embedded into familiar NHS websites and intranets.

We built our solution in just three months, designing it to offers users a voice and work alongside those existing systems.

It even incorporated a notification system, allowing those giving feedback to receive an acknowledgement text message, while still protecting their anonymity.

The application is now easily installed on GP’s PCs, allowing them to report issues quickly and entirely without recrimination.

7. Which reports do you need?

For many companies, the more insight they have into customer data and product or service performance, the more efficiently they can optimise their internal performance, marketing, or sales strategy. Reports are therefore also one of the most important things to consider when building your own bespoke software. You’ll want to make sure your software partner delivers a reporting suite that’s easy to use, outputs information in a simple-to-understand fashion, and yet is flexible enough to let you run the resulting data every way you might need to, both now and in the future.

8. Your software’s ‘home’ and how people will find it

Addressing this will rest on the type of solution you’ve chosen and how you want to distribute it. It could be hosted on a server or Cloud-based service, or if it’s an app, you may want to use any number of app stores – such as Apple, Google or the Microsoft Store.

At DCSL GuideSmiths, we are well placed to help you decide and make this happen, with extensive experience in Cloud-based services and launching to all popular app storefronts.

9. Preparing for Launch!

Remember how earlier we mentioned launching with some features and adding more over time? That’s just one approach to releasing your product to the marketplace. You may also want to soft launch by targeting specific user groups, or go all-in from the start with a fully-featured app or program. This is also the stage where we’d look at migrating data, training your users, and how you’ll want to communicate with your customers about the product arriving in the marketplace.

10. Launch and post-launch

In today’s world, launching is no longer the end of the process – it’s just another step on the journey to serving your customers.

That’s because software is no longer a solo release, launched into a marketplace with no ned for updates or user support. Instead, it’s a live service, with regular maintenance work and new features being added all that time.

That’s where a maintenance agreement comes in, making sure that your bespoke software is kept running smoothly and can grow and scale to the demands of your business.

A maintenance agreement is crucial to building your brand, keeping existing customers happy and bringing new ones on board. Because of that, it’s important you either plan your in-house development roadmap, or you pick the right software partner to handle the ongoing management of your software for the long term.

We’re here to help

Here at DCSL GuideSmiths, we have a wealth of experience developing bespoke software to solve all sorts of problems for businesses of all kinds – and managing the maintenance of that software across successful long-term partnerships.

Our range of services are designed to help you plan, develop, launch and evolve the best bespoke software possible. From early UX workshops where we look at the usability features your app needs to include, right through to hosting your software and getting it on to distribution channels like the various app stores, to developing further features post launch – we think of every detail, and work rapidly and reliably, using a tried and tested agile approach.

If you’ve read this post and are considering developing your own, then get in touch – we’ll be happy to help.