Custom software development compared to licensed software

This blog has addressed custom software written for a legal department, as well as some of the relative advantages and disadvantages of these two approaches (See my post of June 3, 2009: customized software coded for legal departments with 12 references.).  Let’s review the arguments in favor of custom software.


Bespoke software should satisfy the requirements of the law department better than a packaged solution, because it is more precisely tailored. Likewise, at least in theory, it can be adapted more quickly and more specifically to changing needs.  Further, a special solution might be able to combine functions that licensed solutions do not.  It might even cost less depending on the terms of internal cost allocations.  Possibly the software itself can become a source of revenue. A vendor might go out of business or cease support of its software.


On the other hand, to spec out requirements and go through the months of coding and testing takes longer than to select and implement a pre-existing package.  A custom package may have support from only one or two programmers at the company who know it and if they are no longer available, neither is their experience. Home-grown software usually lacks the documentation and training materials that come with a package sold to the public. The custom programming language may go out of fashion, and not be able to keep up with newer languages or tools.  A program written just for one law department probably has no application programmer interfaces (API) that enable third parties to offer complementary capabilities.  Then too, vendors keep adding features and capabilities to respond to a competitive market and user requests; the one-off program may be relatively stagnant and requires ongoing internal support from IT.


Let me know what advantages or disadvantages I have missed  (See my post of June 16, 2009: IT usually involved when software needs to be written; Jan. 4, 2010 #1: legal department bans customizations; Feb. 19, 2010: Cisco’s customized software taken over by Orrick; July 5, 2010: bizarre quote about law departments writing lots of code; Dec. 7, 2010: small department creates own contract management software; Dec. 13, 2010: Bugzilla modified by a department; June 13, 2011: GC Metrics’ data on custom matter management systems; Feb. 8, 2011: two disadvantages of in-house written software; Feb. 22, 2011: home-grown compared to customized as terms; and May 22, 2012: contract management and matter management packages customized.).

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