What is Custom Software?

There is a lot of software on the market for doing a wide variety of tasks. If you have an accounting need, you can go a store and buy some accounting software. When a need is shared by a large customer base, a company will write and sell software to address that need.

But what happens when you have a more specialized task? If you are lucky, an existing program will have an option or feature which comes close to addressing this need. If you are unlucky, there just isn’t any off-the-shelf software that works.

If this task is only performed occasionally and can be performed by hand, you might accept that no software exists. But if the task is a frequently reoccurring one, and doing the task manually is time consuming or error prone, you really need a custom program developed to perform the task.

Can you provide an example?

I had a client who dabbled in the stock market, day trading. They used an online self-serve broker service. At tax time, they had to report their capital gains and losses. The broker sent them a paper summary of all of their trades for the year. They had a mountain of data to go through, matching buys and sells, and taking into account the specialized rules for superficial losses. They were in trouble.

After talking with them, I discovered that when a trade was executed, they also received an e-mail confirmation. More importantly, they hadn’t deleted the confirmation e-mails. I wrote a program for them which downloads the confirmation e-mails, matches the buys and sells, computes the capital gains and losses, and exports that information directly into their tax software.

If you look for off-the-shelf tax software that does that, connects to an e-mail server and extracts stock trade information, I sincerely doubt you’ll find any. It is too specialized. But for them, it was a necessity.