Choosing between custom online booking systems and off-the-shelf for your company is a big decision, and it can be a difficult one. No matter which you choose, there will usually be a significant investment of time and money, and the choice you make will affect your company for years to come. You want to make the best decision you can.

So let’s take a look at the factors you should be considering when making this decision.

Define the booking problem

First thing to consider when choosing a booking solution is to identify the problem you need to solve. Booking systems, whether off-the-shelf hosted booking solutions or custom-made or a hybrid solution, is only a way to solve a problem­—nothing more, nothing less.

Before looking at booking solutions, define your problem and goals clearly: come up with a list of features and functions that are absolutely necessary. Then come up with features that are not absolutely necessary but that would be valuable. Then consider how your business could change or grow in the future.

Defining your goals for your online booking system is important because it prevents you from getting off-track and from considering solutions that have more features, or less features, than you need. This is a factor no matter if you’re looking at off-the-shelf or custom booking solution. You don’t want to end up with a system less robust than you need; you also don’t want to spend a lot on a system and only use a fraction of the features.

When is an off-the-shelf online booking system best?

Most companies select off-the-shelf systems because that software is capable of solving common problems that many companies routinely face. Examples of popular OTS software are:

  • Human resources and personnel software
  • Project management software
  • Accounting software
  • Learning management systems
  • Inventory management systems
  • CRM software

These softwares handle processes that are not part of a company’s unique competitive advantage. For example: most companies do their accounting in similar, standard ways; their accounting process is not what makes them unique, competitive, or successful. It must be said that unless your booking goals are very simple, it’s likely that hosted online booking systems might not meet all of your requirements.

If the booking functions you need makes your company different and successful, this is a sign that off-the-shelf software will likely not be a good idea.

It may be tempting to buy an existing hosted solution that does 90% of what you want it to do. It’s inexpensive, and it’s tangible: it’s right in front of you, ready to go. What often happens is that you will get the software, and then find that the 10% of your process that it couldn’t handle is actually very important to your business.

The lack of those features may then require employees to try workarounds to get the system to do what they need it to do (like using data fields for data the fields weren’t meant for or tracking some data entirely outside the system). This leads to a database that’s impractical and incomplete, which prevents centralized reporting and, in turn, leads to employees not using the system.

Over the years we’ve heard many of these kinds of stories from our customers, who came to us after realizing that their attempt to use a hosted solution wasn’t working that great.

Of course there are plenty of instances when hosted or ready made online booking systems are a great fit. The point is: you have to be confident that the booking platform will do what you need it to do, and that it won’t be a weakness to your business.

The costs of ready made booking platforms

Ready built solution can be tempting because it is usually less expensive in the short-term. But there are hidden costs that must be taken into account. Here are a few costs and downsides associated with ready made or hosted booking solutions, some of which may not be obvious:

Leasing/licensing/support fees. When factoring in licensing and other ongoing costs, take into account that your cost to use the OTS software may rise as your company grows.

Recurring booking fees. These might appear to be small but as your business ramps up they can become a large percentage of your operating costs. Many times these costs are more than the cost of building your own custom solution.

Training. There can be extensive training costs and lowered productivity that come with switching to a new system. (There will be training costs associated with a custom solution, too, but these can be lower when your custom solution is built to mirror existing processes.)

Software company reputation. The reputation and stability of a software provider should be taken into account. If a software company goes out of business, or the online booking systems they provide are no longer supported, it can be expensive getting someone to maintain or update it, or it might necessitate a costly switch to new software.

Security issues. If you use multiple off-the-shelf softwares to meet your needs, this can create a potential security problem. It’s difficult to track access and permissions across multiple systems, which makes it possible ex-employees might unknowingly retain access to some systems. Also, with multiple logins, it may not be possible to restrict access to the extent required by the data access policies of your organization.

Maintenance/customization. If you find pre-built software isn’t meeting your needs, it might be necessary to bring in a developer or consultant to add features. These specialized consultants usually cost about double or triple what a standard consultant would be paid. (This assumes that customization is possible, which, with many pre-built solutions, it’s not.)

Ready built or hosted might appear to be best but over time things change

Just because there are hosted online booking systems that work, this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the best. Here are a few factors that can make custom software a good choice even if a pre-built solution is available:

You’ll be using the solution for a long time. The longer your company will be using the solution, the more a custom solution makes sense, because you’ll be eliminating the long-term costs of licensing the hosted solution while spreading out the development costs of the custom software. You’ll also be able to map the software exactly to your process and change as needed. This can give you an advantage over your competitors.

Easier to administer and track. There may be several existing software offerings that could, when used together, meet your needs. But a custom solution offers an opportunity to do all of these things in one place. This means that employee activity and access is easier to track and control. (This will be both a security benefit and an administrative time-saver.)

It fits your process exactly. When developed correctly, custom software mimics and enhances the exact process of your business. With hosted booking platforms you may get a lot of the things you need but because it’s not an exact match you;ll have to implement some manual or inefficient workarounds to get it to work. This is not the case with custom software as it takes your unique processes into account from the beginning.

Need help deciding about online hosted booking systems?

Its not as simple as selecting the first solution you find in Google! This is why it’s so important to get consulting from an expert: to look at all the options and to come up with an optimal plan, whether it’s a fully custom solution, a hosted solution. We can help you decide and we will never propose a custom solution if we think there is a pre-built solution you could be using.

Need help?

If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here, or want to discuss if online booking systems that are custom built might be a good idea for your business, call us on UK 020 7193 8665 or USA 727 747 0968 or use the form below.

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