Industry-Specific vs General Software: Which Is Right For You?

May 13, 2021
Can Generic Software Solutions Meet Your Needs?

Choosing the perfect software for your business is a daunting task. With all of the different choices out there, sifting through the noise to find one that perfectly suits your business needs can seem impossible.

One of the factors you’ll need to consider is whether your software is specific to your industry, or more generalised. Industry-specific software and generic systems both have their upsides, so whatever decision you make will be personal to your business and its processes.

So, when are those niche software products the right fit for your business? To help you make that crucial decision, we’ve done some of the hard work for you. We reached out to analysts, business owners and longtime SaaS users to get their take on industry-specific solutions, general-use SaaS products, and the best way to approach making an informed buying decision.

We’ve compared a range of industry-specific and generic software solutions and identified the key pros and cons of each.

How We Did It

When we evaluate software we consider the following:

  • Common Use Cases
  • Ideal Feature Sets
  • Ease Of Implementation
  • Customization Options
  • Design

Generalised Software

There are some major benefits to choosing generic SaaS products instead of industry-focused software. In fact, many small business owners we reached out to were proponents of general solutions specifically because they'd had negative experiences with niche products.

In addition to having more robust customer service, general products tend to have larger user bases, which often translates into more learning resources and online support. For example, an estimated 75 million websites are powered by WordPress. That's a lot of users - and a lot of use cases. It’s unlikely that any SME will have a WordPress scenario or problem that is new or unique, which leads to quicker solutions.

Furthermore, most software experts agree that generic systems often offer a smaller upfront cost. However, they also caution retailers to consider any additional costs that might be tacked on as the business grows and requires different features.

The initial purchase cost is only one of the possible price considerations for off-the-shelf software because upgrades, software support, monthly or annual licensing fees, per-website or installation licenses, and per-seat costs can all inflate expenditure to considerably higher levels. Over time these fees may actually exceed the costs of a customized solution without any of the advantages.

  • Lower up-front cost
  • Feature rich
  • May meet most of your business needs
  • Support is often included or can be added with a maintenance contract
  • User communities across the internet and forums provides self-help support
  • Quick to deploy
  • All design, development, QA/testing is handled by vendor
  • May come with upgrade costs, licensing fees, or per-seat costs
  • Will likely not meet all business needs - a square peg for a round hole
  • May include features and functions that are not wanted
  • You may have to change business processes to match the software functionality
  • Will be variably out-of-sync with your business vernacular
  • May include security or technical solutions that do not conform to internal business guidelines
  • May have infrastructure/platform requirements that your business cannot support, or can with additional cost
  • High customization costs, or impossible to customize
  • Feature requests will likely go unheard and future enhancements may not be relevant to your business
  • Obsolescence is possible. Slow to evolve with your business or industry, so your business may need to keep processes matching the software, change software in the future, or introduce additional systems to bridge the gap between software and future processes

Industry Specific

Industry leaders buy industry products. Many of the business owners we asked stated that they chose an industry-specific solution in order to gain a competitive advantage or at least keep up with their biggest competitors. A one-size fits all solution would miss out on key industry features and provide a solution that would be less cost-effective in the long-term.

One of the benefits of using industry-specific software is familiarity; many developers generally have a greater understanding of industry needs and procedures. In addition, those systems usually contain industry-specific features that help businesses of all sizes streamline their processes.

Software companies that develop industry-specific software have made substantial financial investments, plus years of software development efforts to understand the industry vertical-market requirements and incorporate unique productivity tools, which provide business advantages over generic software products that cater to a mass audience.

When general software solutions are designed, they're created with the most popular use cases in mind, and some industries may have to make substantial customizations to make generic solutions work for them. In addition to honing the product to meet a specific type of user's needs, industry-specific solutions often have fewer overall settings and options, allowing for a streamlined design that's less overwhelming. Having a limited set of features and settings can make the implementation process faster and it can even improve the user experience.

While the starting costs for industry-specific solutions vary widely according to feature set and business focus (Enterprise vs. SME), they generally tend to be more expensive than their broad-use counterparts.

  • You can start with the core-essentials and add features and functions later
  • A solution tailored to match business needs, processes, and security requirements
  • Easier to orientate staff to the software, because it follows your business practices and vernacular
  • Can be developed using a software language and infrastructure/platform matching your business needs vs. those of a ‘mass market’ nature
  • Possible integration with legacy and additional systems
  • You own the software
  • Possible competitive advantage
  • Direct vendor support ultimately provides for an extensible, evolving solution that can stay current with your business
  • No obsolescence and investment in updates and enhancements is 100% controlled
  • Changes can be made quickly
  • Often without any additional licensing fees
  • Higher upfront costs
  • Change and feature requests may be billable
  • Requires developer sources (with inherited risks)
  • Requires developer communication during the software development cycle: requirements, design, development, QA/testing, and training will require business involvement
  • No user community to provide self-help (but direct relationship with vendor negates need for this)

So what is the answer?

For customers, it ultimately comes down to choosing a software solution that will enhance their processes, not restrict them. There is no predetermined answer as to whether that will be achieved by a specialized platform system or a generic one – it all depends on a multitude of factors. Hopefully, this comparison will help you weigh up your options and settle on the option that best benefits your business.

Choose carefully.

Industry-Specific vs General Software: Which Is Right For You?

Will Doyle


I am an experienced RICS chartered Quantity Surveyor​ with first-hand experience of how the consistent capture and analysis of data can transform global project delivery.

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