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General-Purpose Business Software versus Industry-Specific Software.

 By Dave Piasecki  

What is General-Purpose Business Software?

This is software designed to be configured for a large variety of businesses. I sometimes refer to it as Generic software, though that isn’t to imply there is anything wrong with that. These products range greatly in functionality, from basic accounting packages to full-featured ERP Systems. General-purpose business software products are available from numerous well-known names in the software industry. For example, Quickbooks, SAP, and Netsuite are all what I consider to be General-purpose software products. 

What is Industry-Specific Business Software?

These are business software products designed specifically for specific industries. For example, software built for contractors, farmers, auto repair shops, Dentists, etc.

How does this affect functionality?

As a generalization, general-purpose software will have greater functionality and be more configurable than industry-specific software. And while that sounds like a good thing, it may not be the best for you. Greater functionality and being more configurable means you need to do a lot more setup to get it to work for you. In addition, even though it is more configurable, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can configure it to work the way you want it to work for your business. 

General-purpose software tends to be built around what the software provider assumes to be standard workflows. And if your business doesn’t follow a similar workflow, you could have problems. I will point out here that you should consider adapting to the workflow intended by the software provider. A lot of businesses develop their own unique workflows as they grow. They basically make it up as they go.  I can tell you that these workflows are not all winners. Some software companies do the same thing, in that they can come up with some bizarre workflows, but in general, general-purpose software tends to follow standard workflows. Therefore, a growing business should take this opportunity to review their workflows to see if they can modify them to be more standardized. That said, if the workflow intended by the software provider is so cumbersome or otherwise unworkable, and you don’t want to cripple your operation because of your software’s limitations, you need to review your options. If it’s a process you don’t do frequently, you can probably live with it, but if it’s a core part of your operation, you may need to look elsewhere for software. 

As an analogy, if you’re a tool guy or gal, you may know of a tool called the Shopsmith (https://www.shopsmith.com/). This tool has been around forever.  It’s a single tool that can be converted to many tools. It’s a table saw, lathe, drill press, sander, etc. So the idea is it takes up less space than all those tools, but you have all that functionality available to you. However, you need to set it up for each of those tools every time you want to use them. Therefore, if you frequently use multiple tools, you may be happier with having a separate table saw and lathe than having to set up the conversion between the two. Note: I’m sure there are people who love their shopsmiths, and I don’t have any first-hand experience with one, so my comment is based on speculation and my experience using other multi-purpose tools. I don’t like doing changeovers with tools, so much so that I think I have 5 or 6 angle grinders, so there is always one handy with the right wheel on it. 

And this brings us to industry-specific software. As I said previously, industry-specific software is built with a specific industry in mind. This is more likely to result in some oddball workflows, but in this case, if there is an oddball workflow, it’s probably because that is how your industry works.  Industry-specific software will be less configurable, but that means you don’t have to configure as much to get it to work for you. It probably works pretty well right out of the box. As with general-purpose software, if your industry-specific software has a workflow that is different than yours, it’s worth considering changing your processes to fit what the software supplier thinks is standard for your industry.

For example, if you are a construction contractor, you would likely want a product that can track projects, track labor and materials by project, assign subcontractors, and track subcontractor costs by project. You may want some scheduling tools to track the progress of projects and schedule labor and subcontractors. These all may be designed into an industry-specific product targeting a contractor like you and therefore would have workflows that work the way you work. General-purpose business software may be able to achieve most of this as well, but the workflows may be clunkier.  For example, you may have to set up subcontractors as work centers or outside operations in software designed for manufacturers. While this may work, adapting manufacturing software to work like a contractor could be ugly. 

If you’re a farmer, software designed specifically for farms may have functionality to track and maintain your equipment. It may have special functionality to track crops by the field in which they are planted. It may even have functionality to change the value of crops as they grow. 

One of the problems with industry-specific software is if your business evolves to something that is outside of your industry. If you start out as a small machine shop doing outsourced machining for other businesses, you are probably better off with a software product made for contract small machine shops.However, if you start producing your own products and wholesaling the products to other businesses around the world, you will be more likely to find the functionality to make that transition in a general-purpose software product.

Can’t I just change the software later?

In theory, yes, but it is very painful to migrate to another software product. If your current software is not significantly deficient, it’s hard to justify all the time and cost to migrate to another system. When you choose to implement software for your business, you need to assume you will be using that software for a good amount of time . . . maybe forever. 

Who is the best candidate for industry-specific software?

If your industry has unique needs and workflows, you would be a good candidate.Smaller operations are also more likely than larger operations to use industry-specific software products, though there are some large operations that use them. Conversely, there are many small businesses that use Quickbooks (general purpose software) but there are also many add-on products that add functionality to make Quickbooks work more like industry-specific software.

Where do I find industry-specific software?

This is a tricky one. And depending on the industry, Google may provide good results, or it may return a bunch of general-purpose software products that claim to serve your industry. You may have to get clever with your searches by searching for specific functionality you are looking for such as searching for software products to schedule subcontractors.

Another options isif your industry has a trade magazine focused on it, a software product designed for it will likely advertise there.

  More Articles by Dave Piasecki.

Dave Piasecki, is owner/operator of Inventory Operations Consulting LLC, a consulting firm providing services related to inventory management, material handling, and warehouse operations. He has over 25 years experience in operations management and can be reached through his website (https://www.inventoryops.com), where he maintains additional relevant information. 

 

 

 

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