The question of whether to build or buy software can be difficult to answer. If you have a dedicated IT team the idea of creating your own system to manage your data and processes can seem attractive. The apparently long-winded process of sourcing software suppliers and products can seem time-intensive and expensive. Then, for off-the-shelf software, there is the associated time cost of your team gathering and documenting their requirements, software testing and training. This is all before you start adding in the cost of software licenses and ongoing support.
Given all this, it is no surprise that many organisations choose to embark on building their own software.
However, this is not the full picture. Many of the considerations and activities involved in choosing off-the-shelf software should also apply to creating your own systems. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and can lead to costly mistakes.
Below we have outlined some of these common myths to help you make a balanced view when considering whether to create your own software. It is based on our 25+ years’ experience of implementing software, in many cases, replacing in-house built applications.
Myth 1: It will be cheaper to build our own
You already have the IT team in place or you can recruit a developer to build your system for you. Therefore, the costs will be minimal as you only have to factor in their salary – right?
Developers are very technically adept; however, they often do not have a clue what your users do and what they need. Before you can successfully build a system, you need to have identified and documented your requirements.
Developers are also not business analysts and what your users think they need is often not actually the case. Some interpretation of these requirements may be needed.
During the system development, regular progress reviews will be required. Once the system has been completed time will be required to test the system and train the users.
Therefore, when considering the costs of building your own system you need to factor in the time required for all these meetings between developers and your users.
Once the system is live that does not mean the end of the process or software development. To ensure the system continues to meet your users’ requirements as their processes evolve, regular changes will need to be carried out. In addition, there will invariably be some bugs that need to be ironed out.
Many organisations only factor in the cost of creating the initial software and not the associated expense of maintaining the software. Successful businesses do not stand still, and software needs to adapt to these changes. Without this ongoing investment and attention, many systems soon become obsolete. There is also another potential issue waiting to arise when the original developer leaves and no one else knows the code. This often results in no one knowing how the software works or how it can be changed.
Myth 2: We will be able to create exactly what we need
Who would know better what you do than your own team?
Sometimes people get comfortable with the status quo and do not challenge how or why things are done. Just because you have always worked a particular way does not mean it is effective.
A major benefit of off-the-shelf software is that standard processes are already built-in using best-practice approaches gathered from multiple sources.
In addition, an external business analyst reviewing your existing standard operating procedures can help identify inefficiencies and gaps. If building your own software, having this objective, experienced person can help you avoid implementing potentially costly processes.
Finally, developers usually have a focused skillset or development language expertise. This may limit what you can physically create and may not result in the most effective solution.
Myth 3: It will be easier for our team to use
Just because something looks simple to use does not mean that it actually is.
Many software organisations invest heavily in understanding and improving the user experience. This can involve implementing new technologies or tools to enhance the look and feel of the product to the user.
In addition, off-the-shelf solutions have focused training materials and classes to ensure your users can use the software to carry out their daily tasks.
When building your own software, adequate user training and documentation, as well as user experience testing, should not be overlooked.
Myth 4: It will be quicker for us to change the software
It sounds logical that your own IT and development team should make software changes quicker than an external supplier.
However, this is often not the case in practice. Your IT and development team may have several IT projects they are working on. They may also have a formal change process that needs to be followed. There may also only be one or two people that can actually make the changes as the software is essentially bespoke. These can lead to delays when implementing any changes.
Myth 5: It will be secure
The software is being built on your servers and you have a user file that manages access and permissions. Sounds secure?
Software security extends beyond managing users’ access.
Many of the off-the-shelf software packages have extensive security features. These range from integrated, secure user access and permissions via Single Sign-On systems like Active Directory, through to encrypting data.
In addition, if you want to extend functionality to external 3rd parties this may not be possible with limited security options.
When choosing whether to build or buy software it is important to consider all the steps involved from software design through to ongoing maintenance. Implementing software is not just about the product but also involves people and business change. Therefore, when considering any cost involved when building your own your developers’ time is just one small element.
One of the most important considerations that is often overlooked is life-time value. Whether you are implementing your own or off-the-shelf software, identifying and measuring the anticipated benefits and return on investment is critical. This will then enable you to realistically assess the cost-effectiveness of creating your own.
Finally, not all software, suppliers and projects are created equally. This means it does not have to take years or cost hundreds of thousands to successfully implement off-the-shelf software. With some software you can be live and realising the benefits within weeks.
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