Is Custom Software Right for your Business?
I know, I know… Not another buy-versus-build article.
What if the buy-versus-build decision could be boiled down to a few simple yes/no questions? Well, it can!
Question 1: Is there a software package, Web site or mobile application that comes close to delivering what you need?
In many ways we live in a golden age where anything you can think of—yep, there's an app for it. So before you entertain the idea of custom building software, take the time to do a deep dive into what's already available in the marketplace.
Commercial applications may not provide you with everything you need, but if you can address 80% of what you need with something that has already been developed, you're…uh…80% of the way there. Custom writing software may be something akin to re-inventing the wheel in these circumstances.
Question 2: Do commercially available applications conform to the way you do things? Or will you have to conform to the way they do things?
Even if you find a commercial application that appears to do what you need, you must take your evaluation one step further.
Any commercial software application will adopt industry best practices where it can. So a company that adopts commercial software will find itself undergoing a positive transformation—just by the act of using the software. And that, right there, is a no-brainer.
But many companies stay in business because of the unique approach they take to their line of business. So the evaluation process becomes quite complex. Should we save money by going with a commercially available product, give up what makes us unique, and potentially lose money when we turn into a clone of our competitors… Hmmm…
In my interactions with small businesses, it is the exception—not the rule—when the owner recognizes that the company's workflow, business processes and unique approaches are a central part of the company's valuable intellectual property. Sacrifice those and you might as well be a franchise owner, right? If they make you unique, and your customers come to you because of that uniqueness, then they probably should be enshrined in custom software.
Question 3: Are commercial products too big or complex for me?
Most companies evaluate commercial software based on cost and how closely the product reflects the company's workflow. But there is another viewpoint from which commercial products should be evaluated.
Many products are designed for big companies with big needs. They are too complex. They offer too many features. They are too hard to learn. And they are priced too high because of it. Yes, for someone who needs all of the features, the price is fair. But if you will be using 20% of the features, maybe it makes sense to create custom software that addresses that slim set of needs.
There you have it: three simple questions that you can ask to kick off any buy-versus-build research project.
Custom software doesn't have to be expensive. And it is often more affordable than commercial software –maybe not in year one, but definitely over the life of the software. Most importantly, you must evaluate whether or not it makes sense to conform to commercial software or to maintain what makes your company unique. If that point is true, than you are better off going the custom route any day of the week.