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Perspectives

When to Build vs. Buy Software: What’s Right for Your Business?

Written By: Joe Demski
March 9, 2022
10 min read

Article originally published 9/26/2018

You’ve identified breakdowns in your business, and now you’re searching for a flexible software solution. You’re seeking something to break through efficiency and collaboration barriers frustrating your staff and keeping them from performing at their best. You know you need something adaptable, and you need a solution quickly. There are countless options on the market with two overarching categories to choose between: Build vs. buy software.

Before you can begin vetting vendors, you must ask yourself one critical question: Should you tackle the problem by buying off-the-shelf software or do you build your own custom solution using a no-code development platform? Let’s take a closer look at your business needs and explore what the benefits and drawbacks are for each option.

What is Build vs. Buy?

Let’s start by defining what build or buy means in the software context. Building software requires some amount of engineering or development lift to be deployed as an intended solution. A build solution allows a purchaser the flexibility to decide how that software will be utilized and facilitates customization to the needs of a business.

Historically, build solutions required a great deal of IT and development resources to employ. However, advancement in low-code/no-code technology and increased vendor focus on ongoing support has made build solutions less reliant on professional coders and more readily adoptable within lines of business.

Buying software indicates a solution that is ready for use upon purchase or “out-of-the-box.” A buy software is developed by a vendor to solve a defined problem and catered to an end user in the business. Buy solutions require no additional coding from developers after purchase and, generally, allow for relatively little customization.

A common category of buy software is point solutions. Point solutions exist to improve singular functions within a business. This software can be adopted by a business user readily but may not interact with existing software already in use. Point solutions (and buy solutions, more broadly) address specific needs sometimes to the detriment of other processes.

What to Consider When Deciding Whether to Buy Software

Ease of deployment

For many businesses looking for an immediate fix to a pressing business problem, an online point solution is an attractive choice. It doesn’t require hardware procurement or IT systems maintenance. It’s easy to deploy, and it’s ready to use right out of the box. They get a set of prebuilt features that they can start using right away to help improve things like customer support, HR onboarding, IT service management, project management, and other common business operations. They also don’t have to worry about scaling, software upgrades, or security, because the services provider takes care of all of that for you.

If your data and process needs are static and generic, and you don’t mind a one-size-fits-all approach, this could be the perfect solution for you—and for many companies out there, it is.

Lack of custom solution

Designed for the masses, point solutions do just that; they target pain points within areas that are common across all businesses (think CRM or ITSM). So, if you’re looking for a custom software that’s outside the realm of typical mainstream operations—like a system to more efficiently support internal compliance activities—finding an out-of-the-box solution that fits will likely end in frustration.

A point solution also won’t be your best bet if you want to streamline and automate existing processes or need a solution that requires regular updates to keep pace with changing business or customer requirements. Prebuilt, single-purpose solutions offer a “what you see is what you get” proposition. They’re not set up to easily accommodate customization or future updates.

Many companies that choose a stand-alone system approach to problem-solving often end up deploying multiple systems from different vendors. Managing across an environment of disparate applications and tools can be a complex endeavor, and the data silos they create can impact interdepartmental collaboration. Integrating systems, if it’s even possible, will require learning their different data structures, understanding their business rules, and using application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect.

What to Consider When Deciding Whether to Build a Software Solution

Effort required to deploy

The hallmark of a build software solution is that it takes time and effort to make it valuable to your business. In order to build software that helps achieve business goals and encompass existing solutions, you will need the involvement of other stakeholders in the company. In some cases, the involvement of IT or professional coders is necessary.

If your business is experiencing a disruption to normal operations and needs a bridge solution for a small number of affected systems, the process of adopting a build solution may not make the most sense. Build solutions are not off the shelf solutions. Careful consideration must be taken to decide if a new solution must be adopted immediately or if reaching a greater business impact is the goal.

A build software can provide a powerful platform for improving business operations, but a decision must be made holistically whether the effort involved is worth the reward.

Long-term adaptability

A common misconception about today’s business software development platforms is that you need to have programming skills to use them. The truth is no-code platforms, like Quickbase, make it easy to build and maintain your own problem-solving solutions with basic spreadsheet skills and knowledge you already have about your data and processes.

Most of the code is generated automatically, triggered by point-and-click actions and visual cues. Not only will you be able to easily build and deploy your own custom solutions, you’ll also do it faster than going through a busy IT department—and much less expensively and more flexibly than prepackaged point solutions.

Compared to out-of-the-box solutions, building your own software may require an upfront investment in time to map your processes and plan your software build. But you’ll benefit in the long run by having full control of a tool completely customized to your processes now and one that can adapt with your business as your needs change.

How to Determine Whether to Build vs. Buy

We’ve outlined the pros and cons of each type of software, but how should you determine whether you need to develop or purchase software? Every company's organizational composition and business needs vary significantly, and that decision should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Here is a selection of factors to consider when making that decision for your business:

Scope of software

How many stakeholders will need to interact with your new software? If the user pool is limited to a minimal number of internal users and processes, a purchased point solution may suffice. If the function a new solution is meant to address requires input from multiple data sources and access for external users, a broader, built software makes better business sense.

Need for customization and flexibility

Is the issue you intend to solve isolated to one function or a part of broader company inefficiencies? Will you need any new software to evolve over time? If the problem is isolated, buying software is a quick solution. If multiple functions need roll up into one program or you intend to fold more processes into your solution over time, custom building software is the route to go.

Cost

What’s your budget? What resources do you have available to adopt software? How much time do you have to devote to developing software? Pricing for build vs. buy solutions vary significantly depending on functionality. More expensive, time and resource-intensive solutions can be less cost effective depending on the business case and minimize their value to a business.

Should You Buy or Build Software?

After learning about the benefits and drawbacks of buying software vs. building custom software and what relevant factors to consider in the process, it leads to the ultimate question—what should you choose? The answer is simple: it depends!

The right solution for an organization is determined by their unique business requirements. When you recognize it is time to buy technology to address a problem in your organization, you must consider a host of factors to pick what makes the most sense for you.

Generally, the most effective option for most businesses is building their own solution with a no-code development platform, like Quickbase. Platforms which enable line of business leaders to craft a custom solution without professional coders have become increasingly appealing and cost-efficient alternatives to single-purpose applications, especially when:

  1. You want a better fit and a broader focus. A no-code development platform empowers you to create solutions that simplify and automate tasks, processes, and workflows that are already in place for a custom fit with a familiar look and feel. You’ll also be able to solve a multitude of business challenges across teams and departments, building a connected ecosystem that share one database with a single source of truth.
  2. You need seamless collaboration and fewer integration headaches. Everything happens on a secure, scalable cloud platform where all your apps and their data resides. Information within and between apps is effortlessly shared with the right roles and permissions access. And the means to connect apps with external systems and data sources is broader and more straightforward than with prebuilt solutions.
  3. You want to speed time-to-value. Each new point system deployed represents another learning curve for your team, and likely another vendor you’ll need to work with. With one development platform and a common user interface across all solutions, everyone from seasoned developers to new builders, to users can hit the ground running—no matter how many software solutions are introduced.
  4. Responsiveness is vital to your business. A no-code development process not only enables you to quickly create problem-solving apps when and where needed, but it also lets you make real-time updates without having to call in costly and time-consuming professional coding resources. In your hands, operations remain highly responsive to changing business needs and customer expectations.

Catching the no-code wave

No-code software development platforms are fast becoming the preferred way for business professionals to quickly and economically build and deliver solutions with their own software to all levels of an organization. Even large corporations that have traditionally opted for prebuilt point solutions to support the needs of core departments are recognizing the transformational successes that today’s “build it yourself” crowd is achieving. Who wouldn’t be interested in driving a more cost- and time-efficient, agile, and competitive business?

FAQs

What is build vs. buy?

Build vs. buy are the two overarching choices to decide between when selecting business solution software. A ‘build’ software indicates the need for some amount of customization from a business ahead of deployment. A ‘buy’ software is ready out of the box to solve for a specified business issue.

What are the main factors to consider when deciding whether to build or purchase software?

When determining whether to purchase software or begin building software, you must consider many factors about your organization, your available resources, and the project scope the software is intended to resolve. These include the number of internal and external software users, how quickly the problem needs to be resolved, who you can assign to deploy a solution, how many processes will be affected by a new software, and the cost of a solution.

Written By: Joe Demski

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