Should I Build Custom Software or Buy a Product?

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There are many problems that your business has that could be solved with software. One of the major struggles businesses have is deciding whether to build a custom solution, or find an existing software/software as a service (SAAS) that meets their needs. There are some key questions you can ask yourself that will help to narrow the scope of what you are looking for.

1. What problems are you trying to solve?

It’s important to clearly identify your goals at the beginning of the project. Define your desired results, and prioritize them into three groups: Need to have, want to have, and nice to have. Throughout your exploration process keep referring to this list as a litmus test as to whether your solution is the right fit.
With SAAS you will be limited to the features the provider offers, with the possibility of a public roadmap of upcoming features. With custom development you can continually enhance the project over time to add functionality and customize previously implemented features.

2. How much am I willing to invest?

Before going into any project you should have a budget in mind that you are willing to spend. Your original budget is likely below what it costs to get the job done, but once you factor in the longterm value of the software (Through time saved, workflow efficiencies, or increased profit) it is much easier to justify the investment.

Most SAAS options have public pricing for what they offer, which allows you to quickly determine their month-to-month costs. Custom software will require individual quotes from software developers, but can be broken down into phases based on your feature list to spread the cost over a longer period of time. Custom software generally costs more up-front, with minimal ongoing costs for support and maintenance.

3. What existing data or platforms do I need it to integrate with?

If you have existing systems or data that you need to integrate with, that will add an additional layer of complexity to your project. SAAS options often integrate with a small number of popular services, which may not be a good fit if you need to integrate with existing custom software. As long as access is available for your existing systems, any new solution can be built to integrate with it.

4. What kind of support will I need?

When dealing with your new software options, you’ll need to ensure it works on the computers and devices you have available, and all of your key staff need to be trained as to how to use it. What kind of bandwidth do you have internally to support this process and ongoing support? Understanding what resources you have internally to support this new software will help define what type of support contract you may need.

6. When do I need this done by?

How time sensitive are you about getting your projects solved? Purchasing existing software severely decreases the time to launch, with the majority of the time coming from initial setup and administration. Custom solutions have additional overhead during the initial discovery and planning stages and will take longer to build your custom solution.

7. What kind of risks am I willing to take?

For SAAS, you are at the whim of the developer and if they discontinue their service you are back to the square one. When building something custom you will own that solution and can continue using it as long as your hardware supports it. Consider how reliable is the company who is providing the software. Are they a startup aiming to be purchased by a larger company, or are they in it for the long haul?

This is a starting point

These questions hopefully help plant some overall criteria that will influence your selection process, but it is a lot of legwork to conduct a proper evaluation and selection process. If you still feel lost or overwhelmed, working with a consultant can help to alleviate the pressure and more skillfully guide you to a solution. At Red Argyle we consult with businesses at the beginning of projects to define it’s scope, establish evaluation criteria, and review viable custom and SAAS options that are a fit for their particular needs. Learn more about the wide range of consulting services we offer.

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