Standard software is software system that cover a clearly defined application area and can be purchased as prefabricated products. In contrast, custom software is specifically developed for use by a customer or company. Occasionally, a distinction is made between standard application software and standard system software; in the field of system software, however, the use of standard software is so common that this term is hardly used and this distinction is usually dispensed with.
In the field of application software, standard software can be divided into the areas of functional or cross-functional standard software as well as industry software. Functional or cross-functional standard software is industry-neutral (horizontal market) and tailored to a specific field of application, which is in many cases strongly regulated, for example by legal requirements. The transition between feature-related and cross-functional software is fluid, typical examples of feature-related standard software are accounting software, CAD, or production planning and control systems (PPS). Cross-functional standard software, on the other hand, can be used in several functional areas of the company, such as Office packages or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. The latter are also referred to as integrated systems because they represent a bundling of several functional modules. The use of integrated systems has the advantage of avoiding redundant data storage.
Also because the area of functional or cross-functional standard software is now dominated in almost all areas by a few providers, industry software is offered especially by smaller providers. This software is tailored to the specific requirements and conditions of companies in an industry (vertical market).
The introduction of standard software can be similar to the introduction of individual software. Especially for large standard software systems, the introduction includes not only the installation and training of the users, but also a configuration of the software. The configuration of a standard software is called Customizing. Introducing standard software is a large project that usually requires the use of external consultants. There are two basic strategies for introducing standard software:
- The complete switch over at a clearly defined time, usually at times when the unavailability of a system is largely uncritical. To minimize risk, this type of software rollout requires extensive planning and preparation (data migration to be performed during the transition period, training, planning of a fallback in the event of problems).
- The opposite strategy is an iterative introduction of a new system in several, smaller steps, which is rather unusual when standard software is introduced, but rather applied when introducing individual software. Depending on the application of the software, the iterative introduction is to be considered useful, because in complex software systems the effort of customizing can otherwise increase considerably.
In the case of business-critical software, a phase of parallel use of the old and new software systems often takes place in order to remain able to act in the event of migration problems.
In principle, it depends on the specific case whether the use of standard or individual software is cheaper. The main advantage of using standard software is usually the lower cost, which is often due to the necessary adjustments(configuration) to existing system components. Due to the adaptability of many standard software products, however, the main argument for the use of individual software, namely the possibility of tailoring to individual circumstances, is somewhat invalidated.
Furthermore, the following advantages for the use of standard software are often mentioned:
The inclusion of specialists in certain fields (such as mathematicians, designing, communication etc.) or the perfecting of certain details (i.e. database optimization, usability, look & feel, help and documentation) is more worthwhile for manufacturers of standard software, as their products re-enter the costs via the sales volume.
A high degree of distribution of standard software entails a high degree of dissemination of operating know-how.
In many cases, it is not possible to use standard software, or only with a disproportionate effort. Especially if there are very specific requirements regarding existing infrastructure (e.g. because many complex interfaces to third-party systems have to be taken into account) or very specific and complex business processes have to be mapped, the implementation of individual software is inevitable.