When it comes to developing software, anything can be created from scratch.  If you can imagine it, a program can be built for it.  So, if your software no longer handles your unique business use, or you have an entirely new software need, a custom-built solution is always an option.  The question, however, is what provides the best value for your company, when should a custom application be considered versus an off the shelf product?

Computer code on a screen

The answer to the build or buy question is not always black and white.  There will always be those who say to never use custom software for a myriad of reasons, and those who only recommend custom, because it will give you exactly what you need.  After two decades of providing programming services, we’ve come up with some common scenarios in which companies approach us for programming requests.  Each scenario has its own impact on the build or buy question but might offer helpful input when considered which road to take.

Solve a Common Business Problem – The first scenario is a request for the development of software that solves a common business problem.  These are applications that handle collaboration, CRM or document management, for example.  Fortunately, at this level, the market is saturated with affordable off the shelf stand-alone or business suite applications that can be deployed rapidly, typically have install assistance, were created with integration in mind, and offer support contracts.   Most offer many built-in customizable features, allowing flexibility in matching the application to your business processes. Unless there is a requirement that is completely unique to your business (and there are these exceptions), and the application fits most of your business needs, an off-the-shelf solution is probably available and a better option than a custom build.

  • Software for Common Business Issues – Buy

Portal Development and Application Integration – It is typical for companies who utilize separate unique business applications to want some of the ease of use in available office suites.  However, if these applications are purpose built or highly specific, they are not available in suites.  In this scenario, a central portal to access the integrated applications provides a one stop option.  From an enhanced collaboration, time saving and improved data insight standpoint, the investment in custom portal development to access integrated applications can create measurable value.  No more time-consuming logging in to multiple applications, or trying to gather data from each to create one report.

  • Portal Development and Application Integration – Build

Large Multi-Module Applications – Requests for large multi-module applications that run many aspects of a business, such as ERP software, are also common.  These applications are available off-the-shelf and are typically written with a specific industry in mind, such as manufacturing or healthcare.   Weeding through which functions would best match your unique processes in these typically bloated applications can be overwhelming, leading some to think that a purpose-built solution might be the best route.  Because these systems take long to plan, write and deploy, if packaged software fulfills 70% of your feature requirements, it is better to go with the built software.  If not, a hybrid approach to software could be utilized by creating custom bolt on modules for processes that are unique to your business, but taking advantage of the available standard features in a purchased solution.

  • Large Multi-Module Applications –
    • Buy, if it meets most of your needs.
    • Build, if it meets less than 70% of your needs or would give you a competitive advantage.

Unique Use Software – It is every software developers dream to build an application from scratch.   This is the no-brainer category.  If it does not currently exist and would provide your company with a competitive advantage or new revenue stream, then you need an experienced software development team to create it.  Having a new application developed is expensive.  They require time and experienced people to write them, so it is not uncommon for even simple applications to start at ten thousand and enterprise applications to run in the high six figures.  Thorough research should be completed to rule out not only the availability of the desired software, but whether a similar product is in development or imminent release status. We typically only receive these requests when an application will provide a competitive advantage, significant ROI or a new revenue stream.

For example, a client came to us with a compelling argument for a custom multi module ERP system. Their entire business hinged on maintaining a less than 2% billing error rate to maintain their industry certifications.  Maintaining the certifications translated to confidence in the company’s service, which resulted in high client retention, increased their client base and bottom line.  In addition, it was built with longevity in mind as it was written utilizing best practices so in-house programmers can maintain and modify the code easily.  It is also flexible, scalable and secure to ensure to it keeps up with their industry’s changing technology needs.

  • Unique Use Software – Build

Legacy Application Rewrites – As technology changes, the purpose built legacy applications some businesses rely on will need to be replaced with an off-the-shelf solution or rebuilt.  We have noticed that if the application is of a more technical nature, chances are a custom solution is the only option.

  • Legacy Application Rewrites – Build

Changes in the technology and business landscape will continually force companies to make decisions on purchasing or developing new software solutions. That, will most likely never change.   Evaluating software can be overwhelming, resulting in decisions based on gut feel, or emotions.  A rational approach is important when making that decision and should always start with a well-defined and prioritized requirements list.  Requirements that are developed and prioritized with the stakeholder’s involvement will also help with user buy-in regardless of the final decision to build or buy.

While buying an off the shelf program is sometimes the best course of action, often custom software will be better equipped to accommodate an organization’s specific needs and highlight processes and efficiencies that distinguish them from the competition. Once that has been decided, you’ll need to find someone you trust to create that program. VantageOne Software has over two decades of experience creating custom applications from scratch. We’ve worked with numerous businesses to help craft software to accomplish their very specific needs for all of the scenarios mentioned earlier. If this is something that interests you, please contact us and we would be happy to schedule a free consultation. The time to improve the efficiency or your organization is now.

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