It’s a new year, and your business has new software needs. You’re a functional professional who knows how to get things done in this modern era, so you Google “build or buy software.” Here’s the problem: A lot has changed in enterprise tech over the last few years, so you’re going to run across outdated advice, especially those quick-and-dirty pro/con charts. The proliferation of cloud computing and Software as a Service (Saas) offerings has thrown traditional buy/build rules out the window.
In 2020, many ‘buy’ options integrate easier and scale better than what you could build. And, believe it or not, there are times when building may be cheaper than licensing. But then, a custom build ain’t what it used to be. (More on that later.) Here’s how to approach the Build or Buy decision in this new decade:
Know What You Need & Where You’re Going
Self-assessment is the obvious first step for any tech planning. This ancient CIO article (okay, it’s 4 years old) actually holds up pretty well because it focuses on how to establish your software requirements, rather than passing judgment on what we used to think were the inherent qualities of building and buying. Figure out what you need and how important each requirement is. Weighted scoring is a powerful decision-making tool. Make sure you’ve identified where you are growing and your intended rate of growth, so you can plan adequate scalability.
When I work with clients, I’m of course interested in how they perceive their immediate need, but I’m also compelled to widen the lens. A good tech partner helps you see your big picture and how a proposed new software solution will fit into it. If you’ve cobbled together disparate systems to meet various needs (which is very common during those startup years), your current build or buy decision is a prime opportunity to think holistically about your enterprise tech platform.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel (Unless It’ll Make You Shine):
CMS, ERP, CRM. These are tools every business needs. That’s why enterprise software providers have so heavily invested in developing, maintaining and upgrading their cloud offerings, and everyone is using them. Take a look at Gartner’s public cloud revenue projections with SaaS leading the pack by a mile.
Okay, companies aren’t building their own CRMs or email systems anymore because there is such a wide variety of quality SaaS products readily available. But it doesn’t hurt to look at your core competency, what makes you unique in the marketplace, and determine whether a software build could augment your competitive edge. It tends to be industry-specific and rare among the organizations we serve, but sometimes custom software can set a business apart from the crowd.
Embrace the Golden Age of Buy
I’m a solution architect; I can build anything. But these days, when I approach a project, I’m always thinking ‘buy’ first, unless I find concrete reasons to rule it out. Why?
Faster Implementation: Today’s prebuilt offerings come with plenty of demos and documentation. You know what you’re getting and can quickly jump in, kick the tires, and whip up a proof of concept. One of our rules around here is, “If you have to fail, fail fast and as painlessly as possible.” That’s much easier with modern SaaS tools. If you find a product doesn’t work for you, you can just drop the license. That’s a lot better than going through the time and expense of development before realizing failure.
Less Maintenance, More Flexibility: As I said above, cloud vendors host, maintain and continuously improve their products. Let them do what they do best, so you can focus on what your company does best. The “rigid,” incompatible, “canned” software profiled in this outdated Forbes piece is a thing of the past. Tech companies know users are sick of integration headaches. They’ve learned working together is more efficient, improves customer satisfaction, and increases profits. As Boston Consulting Group explains, superplatforms like Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure “function as platforms of platforms, aggregating tens of thousands of complementors’ services and millions of developers.”
Infinite Possibilities: Cloud life isn’t all sunshine and roses. It can seem like a dizzying swirl of ever-changing subscription, usage and licensing fees. The saving grace is the limitless number of options. Recently, I recommended a cloud platform add-on that had always been user friendly and affordable. Before the client could implement, a change to licensing terms made it cost prohibitive. After briefly considering a full custom build, we found an accelerator. It was a base product with a reasonable, one-time fee. We customized it to be exactly what the client needed, circumventing the expensive license.
Buy the Right Software; Build the Integration
Some things don’t change with time. Unlike a lot of processes in business today, the build or buy decision cannot be automated. There’s no calculator that will crunch the numbers and tell you what to do. But buying is now more appealing than it’s ever been.
It can take a lot of work to find the right software, but it’s time well spent if it helps your company work smarter and gets you out of the costly and time-consuming software development and maintenance game. Our MINDs partner with you to determine what your business needs and who can best provide it. Throughout the selection process, we’re strategizing architecture – developing and implementing an integration plan that fits the way your people work. Buy the software; build a seamless integration.
Frank Shin has always seen the big picture, probably because he was a scientist before he was a data scientist. The New Jersey native moved to Baltimore to earn his public health degree from Johns Hopkins University. He was headed for a career in medicine until the med school application process made him realize, “I don’t want to go to med school!” He taught science in the Baltimore City Public Schools before returning to JHU to manage clinical trials.
It was in the Johns Hopkins labs that Frank’s lifelong affinity for computer science became his new career track. “I was getting bogged down in all this laborious, repetitive paperwork when I knew the real story, the truth, was in the data. So I gravitated to designing databases that helped people find the truth more efficiently.” Now, with well over a decade in the biz, his current fortes are enterprise architecture and data integration.
When the self-described family man isn’t designing and building smarter workplaces, Frank’s playing board games and helping his two kids discover their own passions. Baking is the current obsession. Anybody need a killer devil’s food cupcake complete with chocolate ganache?