Web technologies explained - Software as a Service vs Open Source vs Bespoke Development

We often get asked by our clients what the difference is between Software as a Service (SaaS), Open Source Software (OSS) and bespoke development? And which technology they should use for their website, CRM or online shop? The answer is, there is no such thing as the best solution or one size fits all. Different business have different needs. A specific software product which might be suitable for one organisation might not be suitable for another.

Let’s have a look through the major differences between each technology type to help you make an informed decision.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software distribution model in which third-party providers host key functionality such as CRM, Content Management or eCommerce systems and makes them available to website owners for an ongoing fee. Good examples of these are well known platforms such as; Shopify, BigCommerce, Mailchimp, Hubspot, Ontraport, Treepl, to name a few..

This means that a website, CRM or eCommerce store is hosted and managed on the providers servers. They securely and economically maintain the technology by keeping the code up to date. With users benefiting from a greater economy of scale, ease of use and piece of mind in this fast moving industry. Such services are normally charged on a monthly basis but can vary in cost depending on the level of functionality used.

Pros of SaaS Solutions

  • All the technical details are handled by the provider
  • No need to manage or maintain site security
  • No need for software updates
  • Ongoing releases of new functionality, features and add ons
  • Fast setup
  • Easy to use backend
  • Lots of inbuilt features
  • Value through economy of scale

Cons of SaaS Solutions

  • Less control and ability to customise
  • No ownership of core code

Open Source Software (OSS)

If a software is open source, its source code is freely available to the public. Users have the ability to take this source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program. Some of the more popular Open Source Systems available are; WordPress, WooCommerce, Magento, Joomla, Drupal and Concrete5.

This means that the website owner is responsible for installing the system on their own server, configuring the hosting, ongoing management of all the technology, security, updates as well as general running of the site.

Pros of SaaS Solutions

  • Complete control and ownership
  • Fully customisable
  • Large marketplace for add ons and plugins
  • Large community of developers and users

Cons of SaaS Solutions

  • More expensive to set up
  • In most cases harder to use
  • More ongoing maintenance
  • More ongoing costs
  • Ongoing security risks
  • Unsecure plugins

Bespoke Software Development

Bespoke software (known as custom software development) is software that is developed from the ground up for a specific purpose. This means that it can accommodate a customer's specific needs, business logic, workflows and outcomes.

Custom software development is often considered expensive compared to off-the-shelf solutions or products. This can be the case if a website owner requires commonly used functionality. However, if a website has more unique requirements, custom development will be needed to deliver the specific logic. In these cases off-the-shelf software will not be flexible or robust enough for larger complex projects.

Cost is not the only consideration, bespoke development gives the owner the ability to own all the source code, to secure all future development and to have full control over modifications to the installed system. Examples of websites that use custom development are; government institutions, larger organisations and businesses with very unique needs.

Pros of Bespoke Development

  • 100% customisable
  • Full ownership

Cons of Bespoke Development

  • Expensive to set up
  • Expensive to host and update
  • Need for extensive scoping process
  • Takes a long time to develop
  • Code is difficult for external developers to follow, especially if there is limited documentation
  • Prone for software bugs
  • Security risks

Conclusion

Over the last 20 years we have been heavily involved in using all 3 of the above approaches. Back in the early days of the internet everything had to be bespoke from CMS’s, CRM’s and email newsletter systems as there were no off-the-shelf systems available.

With the boom of the internet there are now 100’s of amazing and extremely sophisticated (SaaS) online tools available in the marketplace. This seems to be the future of the internet as more and more reliable functionality becomes available off-the-shelf. These systems come with a lot of features, little headaches and are relatively cheap to use. If an organization doesn’t require any custom logic and is interested in a website built for the future we definitely recommend a SaaS system.

However if a specific plugin is required that may only connect with certain systems or if complex custom logic is required you still may need to use the Open Source or bespoke development methods.

If you have any questions or want to know more feel free to give us a call to talk to one of our experts.