What Kind of Maintenance is Needed on Custom Software?

09 Jan 2015

People usually choose off-the-shelf software because there is little maintenance involved. All they have to do is click through some buttons when they get an alert to update, like with Microsoft Office or Adobe products. When you choose a custom solution, you are automatically picking a more complicated process, right?

If you pick the right development team, it won't be a burden to update your software.

Keep your software secure

The first concern when finding a maintenance plan is to make sure you include software updates and security holes. Security is never perfect and it's important to include ongoing security fixes in your budget because they will happen regardless. This ensures your users and their data as well as your data is adequately protected, even if you never make another tweak to the UI ever again.

What about software updates?

As code gets better and new integrations become available for your software, you might want to consider including it in your own software. While this does not compromise your app if you don't, improving the user experience and feature set as users evolve makes users happier. When you make these improvements, remember that not all updates are created equal. It is important to always do user testing and research before assuming a new feature will be loved and accepted by your audience.

Ongoing Development

Depending on the use case and type of software you have, this might be a necessary option. If your software is merely a stop-gap or minor piece in your company workflow, you might not want to pay all that much attention to it beyond ensuring basic functionality. If your software is a major workflow piece and a lot of importance rides on it, you will want to spend an adequate amount of time improving it so it gives you a good return on your investment.

  • New integrations - as new software becomes available that you find you use a lot of data from or there is a web app that often accompanies the workflow of using this app like Google Apps, you will want to incorporate these changes. Users have a high expectation of software today and the world is becoming digitally connected so software cannot act as a silo anymore.
  • User interface - updating the look and feel of your software, if it is external facing, is crucial because of brand reputation and design guidelines. We are always learning how users think and act and being able to update our software to ease their experience is always a good idea. If someone finds your software and it hasn't been updated in a long time, they might not think it has been updated at all if the look and feel is older.
  • User feedback - once you have your software active for awhile, you will get feedback and suggestions if you ask for them. Beyond the usual bug reports, going through this data is an easy way to find improvements that you know users want. While still accounting for testing and basic design and development principles, it is worthwhile to consider incorporating their ideas into upcoming releases.

When is the best time to look for a maintenance plan?

Ideally, you want to start looking towards the end of a project. If you like the people you are currently working with, then it's a quick search. If not, you have some more ground to cover and will want to spend more time comparing prices and packages. Here are some things to consider when looking around:

  1. What does their security update process look like? Do they check often or only when something major happens? Making sure your developers are on top of their game means you don't have to keep track of their job as well as yours.
  2. What is their emergency support like? The goal is to know where their priorities are and ensure your software is safe in case you need help.

When you sign up for a maintenance plan, even if it is just to cover security updates, the developers' first concern is your problem and solving that problem. While developers don't want to always be on call for issues, knowing they will occasionally work extra in extraneous situations shows their passion for the job.

photo by Ryan McGuire