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“Bespoke” vs “Off-the-Shelf”…That is NOT the Question

I will admit, recently, we have unfortunately been unsuccessful in a couple of different pitches for reward related systems.  With the main reason cited as being that despite feeling that “we had a deeper connection in understanding their needs” and “despite knowing more compromises will have to be made”… “we’ve gone with the ‘safer’ off-the-shelf vanilla solution”. This made me come back to the age-old conundrum of “bespoke vs off the shelf” software as it would appear to still be very prevalent today. Don’t worry though, I’m not about to start putting my two-penneth in for why I think bespoke software is the way to go, as you know what, despite working for a bespoke reward software provider, I actually don’t necessarily think this is necessarily true ALL of the time. Let me explain why.

Irrespective of what industry, there are numerous arguments around as to why some people think “off-the-shelf” is the clear winner when looking to implement software – just check out these convincing articles:

We even get the following pushing for a hybrid solution between the two – a third option nonetheless:  and

However, rather than now bombard you with similar reads advocating the “bespoke” approach; I thought I would just share the following article with you instead:

This is an excellent eBook debunking some of the negative perceptions around “bespoke” solutions whilst at the same time, interrogating some of the positive affirmations around “off-the-shelf” software.

What does become plain to see is that in nearly all cases, the two options are not starting off on the same level playing field out of 10:

bespoke vs off-the-shelf scale

The “bespoke” option is almost always starting off on the back foot, usually, as the Helastel eBook explains, from an opinion built up more often than not on myths and misconceptions. Just to then get to the same level as the “off-the-shelf” solution where comparisons can start to be done around functionality and fit etc.

What I am advocating instead is that the 1st question asked is not the “bespoke vs off-the-shelf” one but rather, what will best fit my needs, both now and going forward? And from here a number of additional needs will then also come out. Of course deployment time, cost and functionality are needs, but in my opinion, so also are:

✔ Trust in the partnership – are you both looking to achieve the same thing?

✔ Does the provider truly understand your reward processes, mechanics and procedures?

✔ Does the provider truly understand your compensation cycle?

✔ Does the provider fit your business model, e.g. if you’re an agile business, is the service and software agile enough to ensure you remain ahead of your competition?

✔ What level of service are you likely to receive – and not just during the implementation cycle but more importantly, post sales?

✔ Will the provider move and change with you when you need them to, in the way that you need them to?

Indeed, getting one of the above wrong can have a big impact on deployment time, cost and functionality. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the following picture depicting perfectly how something “straightforward” such as functionality can turn out if all are not on the same page from point 1:

Software Development

You of course are likely to have your own list and it’s likely to differ from mine above. The point is that the decision to go with a “bespoke” or “off-the-shelf” solution should not be the main question to base your procurement decision on. All of your requirements need to be factored in to identify the provider that best meets those needs – and you know what; it could be “bespoke” or “off-the-shelf” or dare I say it, “neither”!


Claire Bedwell

Client Services Director, HWC

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