For small providers selling their services through software, sometimes known as SaaS (Software as a Service ) the options can be confusing. We recently came across this dilemma with one of our regular small business clients.
Most of his clientele used a product he had customised from an off-the-shelf system. They liked the off-the-shelf system. It was familiar. But it was getting a little bit dated, and there was a business case for giving it a facelift, some branding, making it more secure, and moving towards a subscription model instead of a one-off licence.
Now in this case, a complete new bespoke system, while superficially attractive as a complete solution that met all his needs, was a big project, to replace something with good customer acceptance, which was working quite well.
Superficial changes to his existing system didn't meet all of his needs. Key features for it to work were being depreciated by the software company, and one solution made his system look like malware!
A Web App was a good compromise.
Web development has become the target for modern rapid development and deployment. It has a large component infrastructure to select building blocks from, to keep down the development costs, and in general, makes a fully custom solution much more achievable.
The browser has, in recent years, overtaken off-the-shelf Applications such as Excel to become the most popular and flexible delivery tool for SaaS solutions.
By building a web application we can control the user experience fully, within the confines of the browser, delivering a fully branded, and modern looking interface, which does exactly what you want it to do.
Web Apps are easily updatable simply by modifying code on the servers; which means that it is much easier to push updated versions to the client. Importantly, for a subscription model it becomes cost effective to push smaller changes, adding value for clients. Web Apps also facilitate timed and controlled access, because access to the system requires a connection to the webserver.
However, in this case there was some resistance, since, as previously mentioned, the existing system had high customer acceptance, and worked quite well.
In the end, we put together a package that took him halfway there, by moving some of the data resources needed by the off-the-shelf system to a web backend, and made some cosmetic changes. This met his highest priority needs, (branding, and a subscription model) and, more importantly, his budget, but left the door open to taking the system forward into a fully bespoke web app in future, with a much lower cost than that of a completely bespoke system.
As a small, family run business ourselves, we understand the need to develop something collaboratively, with respect for the customer's needs, budget, and users, and we design our system architecture accordingly.