Build vs. Buy: 4 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Software Solution

Of all the tough decisions you have to make when starting a new business, one of the toughest – and most important – is which software will you use to operate your business? Will you buy software or invest in custom software development? It’s the build versus buy conundrum – and we’ve come up with 4 questions to ask before choosing a software solution.

There’s a bit of a gamble in either choice. Do you truly need to build custom software? Or, is there off-the-shelf (OTS) software you can buy and then use as-is or customize? OTS software can be cheaper – and cheap is good when you’re trying to run lean and mean in your start-up years. But, investing the money up front in a custom software solution could save you time, money, and grief years down the road.

The review process for choosing software can feel endless as you review features, compare which systems integrate with other necessary applications, and make sure you’re getting everything you need to be successful. The endless vetting process can seem overwhelming and make you wonder, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to build?” In some cases, the answer is, “Yes.” But, in other cases, the answer is, “No.” That’s why we recommend answering these 4 questions to ask before choosing a software solution to all our clients at RTS Labs.

1. Will building my own software offer a competitive advantage?

Does everyone in your industry use the same legacy software? Is it clunky and hard to use? Do you have a wishlist of features you know would make your processes more efficient? The answers to these questions provide clues that building a custom solution might give you the competitive advantage you need.

Investing in a custom technology solution should give you a considerable advantage over your competitors. Sure, everyone could use a solution that perfectly fits their needs, but will it give you a return on investment by saving you money or helping you provide better service over your competitors? This is an important distinction to make.

2. Does OTS software meet all my needs?

Off-the-shelf software can’t be everything to everyone, but sometimes it truly gets close enough. It’s pretty common for software to offer most of what you need but not all of it, at which point you have to ask yourself how necessary are those last few items on your wishlist.

A lot of new business owners will look for ways to piece together OTS technology solutions to meet all or most of their needs and keep costs at a minimum. This strategy doesn’t always pan out though. At times, piecing together software can leave gaps in reporting, add extra steps to processes, and essentially waste the time and effort of your associates.

Some software can be modified and customized to meet your needs, but many times you need a developer to go in and make the necessary customization. If this is the case, the important questions to ask are:

1) Can it be completely customized to meet my needs?
2) What is the cost of customization versus building a solution from scratch? (Because sometimes a lot of customization can be as expensive as building software from scratch.)

Another potential problem with OTS software is whether or not it’s compatible with the other programs you run. Building your own solution will allow you more options to integrate every piece of technology you use to run your business.

3. Do I have the resources for custom software development in house?

Building proprietary software is just a pie-in-the-sky dream if you don’t have the resources to create it. Development will cost you in both money and time – both of which are in short supply when you’re a new business or a start-up. However, if you’re building a large company and can spread the cost of development across a number of clients, definitely consider building software from the start to save yourself the time and money down the road.

4. Do I have the right team to do the job?

Building proprietary software is not something you can throw at any development team. You need the right people. If you aren’t sure that your own team is up to the job, don’t force the project anyway. It will just weigh everyone down. Chances are good that you’ll end up with frustrated employees and technology that doesn’t work.

If you don’t have the right development team in house, another option is to find a development company you can work with to build a solution. If you hire the right agency with the right experience, they should be able to build the custom software you need, and it’s more likely to work right the first time.

The process of finding the right technology partner can also be a strain on your resources. There are some tricks to vetting technology vendors to make sure you’re a good fit for each other. Our two best pieces of advice are:

If you’ve asked yourself these four questions and determined that it’s best to build, download our white paper on writing a strong RFP that communicates what you need and helps you find the right technology partner. Or, reach out to us with your questions and project details just to start the conversation. Whether we’re the right team for you or not, we’ll be happy to help guide and advise you to get you started.