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Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf AI: What’s Right For Your Business?



Companies are often told that they need a bit of artificial intelligence (AI) to gain a competitive advantage. While that might sound a lot like an unsolicited sales pitch, it’s often true. AI proves its worth time and again through robotic process automation, optimizing operations, and much more.

First, you must identify which processes are ripe for automation. You also have to understand where you’ll get the most out of this technology and a rapid return on investment.

Whenever businesses get to this juncture, the question always comes up: “should we build a custom AI solution or get an off-the-shelf turnkey solution?”

When it comes to custom vs. off-the-shelf AI software, the answer is usually “it depends.”

What is off-the-shelf AI software?

Off-the-shelf AI (or AI on tap) is essentially a third party-built turnkey AI solution. These AI as a Service (AIaaS) options come with a set of custom-designed algorithms to build models for specific tasks, out of the box.

This approach makes AI accessible for smaller businesses that lack deep pockets. Off-the-shelf AI software also helps reduce development and production time and is highly cost-effective. There are plenty of options in the marketplace, with each offering a variety of use cases.

If your processes and operations are similar to one of the use cases, you’ll be able to forge ahead by embedding automation protocols in your enterprise infrastructure.

When does it make sense to go with off-the-shelf AI software?

Now let’s look at the situations when it makes sense to use off-the-shelf AI.


You have a very limited budget

If you want to automate your business processes on a tight budget, a ready-made AI solution might be the most feasible  option. Many off-the-shelf AI solutions are provided on a subscription basis, which makes your AI expenses predictable and transparent.


You need a very fast access to AI technologies

Off-the-shelf products typically feature a user-friendly interface, so all you have to do is just install and deploy AI applications with just a few clicks. No technical background is needed for this, so your prebuilt AI software can be adopted across your organization more easily.


AI is not your core specialty and you have no in-house team to manage custom AI dev projects

AI development is a complex process that requires either building expertise internally or using technology partner’s AI dev teams for developing, maintaining and, what’s also important, scaling your AI solution.

By using off-the-shelf AI, you rid yourself of a hassle related to in-house AI project management.

Also, using off-the-shelf AI solutions allows for taking advantage of product reviews or using a trial version, which enables companies to evaluate the solution before going full-power with it. This is probably the next best thing to cost savings. 

When does it make no sense to use off-the-shelf AI?

And now let’s look at the situations when readymade AI makes no sense.


You’re looking to automate a lot of unique and business specific processes

It probably won’t meet all your needs. As it’s a general AI application, it’s highly unsuitable if you have a lot of unique processes. 


You need your AI solution to be compatible with your existing software systems

Compatibility may become an enormous issue because off-the-shelf AI software may not be compatible with all your internal resources and systems.


It’s critical for you to own the source code

There’s no possibility to adapt or modify off-the-shelf AI application because you don’t own the source code. You can’t simply optimize and automate processes because it serves general purposes. Even if a turnkey solution checks all the boxes right now, it may become an issue as your business grows and scale.


You want to gain a strong competitive advantage

It doesn’t necessarily provide a competitive advantage because all your competitors have the same access to the technology you’re using. If you want your business to stand out and deliver unique experiences, off-the-shelf simply won’t work for you.

What is custom AI software?

Companies build custom AI solutions to meet their unique business needs. AI developers create robust AI-powered systems that align perfectly with your business needs and deliver enhanced customer experiences.

When does it make sense to build a custom AI solution?

Below are the situations when custom AI development will deliver tangible benefits and become a major catalyst of change within your organization.


You’re looking for a solution that would adapt and scale seamlessly

Custom AI development allows for scaling your technology product seamlessly as your business grows and your needs change over time. For example, you might have to expand and modify existing processes. This is probably the primary benefit of custom AI development.

Custom AI software is easy to adapt and scale because the code aligns perfectly with your specific needs. What’s more, you’re in control of the whole project.

In the same vein, you can also easily update and upgrade your software to reflect current and future business trends. This approach helps enterprises maintain a competitive advantage by delivering the best possible experiences to the end-user or customer.


You want to have full control of your AI product

As custom AI is built specifically for your business needs, you can add as many features as you need and make it compatible across all resources. What’s more, you can initiate updates on demand without waiting for a turnkey software company to do it.

Robust support allows organizations to solve problems quickly. Since you have total access to the source code, your in-house software development team can collaborate with your AI development provider to build prompt and sometimes disruptive solutions.


You view AI as a strategic element of your product development

Custom-built AI is ideal for long-term solutions because you own the software and the design, and you’re free to do what you want with it. This translates into significant cost savings in the long run.


You need AI to gain a competitive advantage

Custom AI solutions allow businesses to stay ahead of the technology curve because they don’t have to adapt their business to better suit their software. Your intelligent algorithms are also perfectly suitable for your business model and use cases so that you can gain a competitive advantage. The same isn’t true for readymade solutions.


You need to build your own solution to bypass current technology limitations

AI is still uncharted water, so AI experimentation is needed to create workarounds to overcome existing limitations. Sometimes, you need to leverage external R&D to build a PoC project first, play around with machine and deep learning models training, analyze data and make the right informed decisions.

No off-the-shelf AI solution will provide you with such opportunities.

Launching own R&D is very expensive and time-consuming. That’s where AI R&D outsourcing can come in handy.

Are you looking for a long-term custom AI development partner? is Romania’s Top 3 AI developer, according to Clutch. We provide top-notch R&D and AI development teams and employ outcome-based approach to build and deliver custom AI solutions on time and on budget.

When does it make no sense to go with custom AI product development?

Although custom AI solutions provide unique features and user experiences, sometimes off-the-shelf products provide better benefits, especially in the following situations.


You need a simple AI solution right away

High upfront costs are unavoidable and are often the primary barrier to entry.

Custom AI development is also a time-intensive approach, so if you need a simple solution right away, it won’t be suitable for you.


You can’t find a suitable custom AI development provider

The success of your custom AI project depends on your software development partner, especially if you don’t have an in-house AI development team. This makes it critical to partner with an established AI development services provider who will grow with your business and support your AI project.

Any potential delays can disrupt business continuity, customer experiences, and loss of brand value. So, it’s important to consider this before committing.

While you’re looking for the partner, you can start with off-the-shelf solutions not to get completely stymied with your plans.


You don’t have a resource to manage your AI outsourcing project

Whenever you outsource a project or augment your software development team with offshore/nearshore resources, it’s critical to allocate a dedicated manage to oversee the whole endeavour.

Communication can sometimes present its own challenges if you offshore AI development to a far-off continent. For example, if your outsourcing partner is based in Asia, you’ll have to contend with significant time differences, language barriers, and cultural differences.

As such, it’s important for you to assign a manager who’ll ensure smooth offshore/nearshore team integration with your in-house team, shared vision, and alignment on milestones delivery.


You think you need AI, whereas you can address and solve your issues with mainstream technologies

In their quest for innovation, some tech leaders believe they badly need to add AI to make their product more cutting-edge. However, a thorough product and market analysis can show that you’d be better off using traditional technologies and tools, as your product doesn’t really need robust AI.

Understanding this can help drive down software development expenses and increase time to market, as it’s much easier to find developers skilled in mainstream tech than artificial intelligence.

Also note that rogue AI providers focused on short-term benefits will always insist that you need to use AI for your product development just because it’s a higher margin project for them.

However, established tech consultancies will always point to wrong decisions in your specification and recommend how you can solve your challenges effectively with lower-cost traditional technologies, frameworks, and tools. Therefore, it’s crucial to find the right AI dev partner from the very start of your project.

In summary

Regardless of what you choose, it’s important to dig deep and research all available options. If you don’t have the resources or time to engage in custom AI development, look at all available off-the-shelf AI software solutions and see which one aligns best with your business and processes.

If custom AI development is the best solution for you, it crucial to first find an established AI development provider who can support and evolve with your business over time.

If you have the luxury of choosing either option, it goes without saying that it’s always best to go with custom AI application development.


Some of our custom AI dev projects

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