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For decades, there’s been a ‘secret’ to business success, but it has passed many by until more recent times, and the custom application (or ‘custom app’) development industry remains relatively unknown of.  After all, you don’t know what you don’t know, right?

So, let’s introduce custom applications and in future posts we’ll learn more about the power of their adoption and the why, when and how.

We’ll start by confirming that if we use the term ‘app’ in this context, we’re not specifically talking about mobile phone or tablet apps.  Custom app is a term that’s gained some traction to make the description of a custom software application sound trendier, perhaps.  But what are they and why are businesses adopting them in droves?

Back in the day, bespoke software was developed by IT titans for banks, insurance companies and international enterprises and many of those core systems still underpin them.  The breadth of off-the-shelf solutions available simply didn’t exist as they do today.  In recent years, however, businesses in the know have flocked to the premise of using custom business process applications, designed around the unique needs of their own businesses with the aim of making them more efficient, better informed, more responsive, automated and ultimately, more profitable.

Walk in to almost any workplace today and you’ll find IT at the very heart of its mission-critical operations,  it’s literally fundamental to day-to-day processes and business continuity. As a result, there are now more ‘off-the-shelf’ line of business (e.g. accounting, CRM and ERP etc.) and industry-vertical software applications available than ever before, all trying to provide a broad range of features and tools.

There comes a point, though, where these systems simply don’t align to the unique needs of a business well enough. They can be too focused, rigid, or, even when customisation is somewhat possible, dictate that the businesses using them must heavily adapt their own business processes to manage them.  Solutions created for the masses are usually feature-rich, but can be complex to use, expensive to license, let alone customise, and often they are simply a poor fit.  As a result, staff look for alternative ways to manage their individual tasks and become reliant on spreadsheets, but despite being powerful and ubiquitous, they are two-dimensional and stifle workflows and collaboration.

…staff look for alternative ways to manage their individual tasks and become reliant on spreadsheets, but despite being powerful and ubiquitous, they are two-dimensional and stifle workflows and collaboration.

Spreadsheets are being (mis-)used like databases and by being so very easy to create, they quickly and continuously spawn within a business, creating ‘silos’ of information, each potentially a near duplicate of the last, only to serve a slightly different purpose. Yet, spreadsheets are prone to inconsistent data and actually increase the lack of visibility across the business since they can’t be used practically in collaboration.

Enter the custom application, which is often a product of the company’s own imagination and aspirations for how the repetitive operational tasks should be managed. It’s not uncommon for the role of an app to be created to do something quite humble in the first instance. In a larger business its introduction might be to resolve a single business process challenge in just one department, but if in doing so it can consolidate a number of silos of information, remove some of the reliance on the specialist knowledge of key staff, or automate a manual and time-consuming task, suddenly the business is free to take a deep breath and seize opportunities to turn these benefits in to positive growth.

A custom application can be created to be whatever your business needs it to be, but if the idea attracts you, you should adopt the approach of seizing the ‘low hanging fruit’ first, then you can introduce more complex workflows once your ROI has been realised.

So, if your business is hitting glass ceilings and has become reliant on a combination of mission-critical spreadsheets, perhaps you should consider custom applications as a possible answer to innovation in your workplace.

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