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What does it actually cost to develop software?

Software development can seem like a time consuming and costly process when the individual factors that go into the process are not fully understood.

person using apple computer while drinking coffee at wooden desk
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It is easy for people to understand why it is sometimes difficult for a builder to put a final price on the cost of building a house as it is a tangible thing. They can picture all of the different parts that go into the building process: the walls, electricity, plumbing.

Software, however, is much more difficult to visualize, understand, and relate to – especially when it comes to pricing. While most people interact and deal with some sort of software on a regular basis, they don’t really have a lot of experience when it comes to the development aspect.

With this in mind, when a client needs a piece of software developed for whatever reason, they are sometimes clueless as to why it costs so much and takes a bit of time. This can also be frustrating for a software development company or application development company to deal with as they must take the time to explain and justify their prices.

Understanding the Cost of Software Development

The cost of custom software development depends on a variety of different factors, including the size and scope of the project, the technologies used, the complexity, and many others. The best way to fully comprehend why software development is a costly process is to understand just what goes into it and the various factors that affect the process as a whole.

Factors Affecting the Cost of Developing Software

  • Complexity – The complexity of a project is defined as the logic and features of the software, and it includes two different types: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic complexity is technically inherent to the problem that the software addresses and extrinsic is not. Basically, not every feature has the same cost of implementation. If the software requires the ability to make video calls or to connect with social media, the prices would be two very different ranges due to the time required to implement each request and the amount of coding time needed. Permission levels and analytics are two other complex features of a software project that could boost costs.
  • Design – If a custom-built piece of software is to be successful in the modern marketplace, it must be easy for users to handle and enjoyable to use. Anything that the user sees and interacts with requires a design completed with User Experience and User Interface in mind. Depending on the number of custom screens or pages, the animations, level of detail of the design, redesigns after client feedback, and many other factors, this can become a step that drastically drives up the price of a software project.
  • Size and Platforms – The more screens a software has, the more it is going to cost. Smaller projects may have up to 25 or so screens while large projects will have over 50 at least. The number of platforms that the software needs to be able to work on is also a factor. For example, depending on the technology used, an app may need to be specifically built for iOS and Android or built with a cross-platform solution in mind.
  • Integrations – If the software must integrate with other external programs, many unknown variables come up. This may complicate the process quite a bit as sometimes an integration can be very difficult. Examples of common integrations include payment gateways (such as PayPal or Stripe) and social feeds.
  • Migration – If an existing data system needs to work within a new application, it will require migration of some sort. Migration uses custom scripts to take data out of an old system and reworks it so that the data works within a new system.
  • Technology and Team Members – While some software applications only require a single API to write them, others require extensive backend and frontend development, multiple programming languages, and many hours of labor-intensive work. This obviously has a drastic effect on the price of the project at hand. The number of people required to work on the project to handle all of the development needs, testing process, and project management itself will also be a large factor in overall costs.
  • Maintenance – After the launch and once it is out in the hands of the end-users, work is still not done for the software developers. Maintenance is a constant process that includes performance fixes, correcting bugs that appear over time, adding new features, and important security updates.

A Worthy Cost

Before a client gets overwhelmed by a proposed timeline or budget for a custom piece of software, it is important that they take the time to understand the reason for those numbers. Depending upon a multitude of determinants and specifications, software development can seem like a time consuming and costly process when the individual factors that go into the process are not fully understood.

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