To Build or Buy a Software Solution: Which is Right for You?
We’ve all heard the catchphrase, “if we build it, they will come.” The “it” can be any software solution and “they” can be your staff, members or the general public. While usage is a great data point to evaluate your product’s success, there’s so much more to consider when weighing the options to build an in-house solution or use an off-the-shelf product.
Implementing a new software solution is a huge project. Throughout the evaluation process, it’s important to keep your association’s unique goals and success metrics top of mind. Can a commercial product provide the tools you need? Or do you need something custom to meet your business objectives? Here are some key points you should consider when weighing each option.
Build: Some people initially think that building an in-house solution is less costly as there is no recurring annual fee that is common with most software products today. Once you dig a little deeper, you’ll see there are, in fact, ongoing costs with an in-house build in addition to some pretty steep up-front costs. Creating your unique product requires a dedicated team with the appropriate skills. You need to have the right talent for a technical build. This may include new staff or reassigned staff from other important projects. Additionally, it’s critical that the project road map is managed meticulously to avoid risk of delays that can lead to cost overruns. Once your solution is deployed, you need to budget for ongoing maintenance costs and for any unexpected enhancement requests once your team starts using it. Will the product be managed by an existing employee or will you need to hire a new product manager?
Buy: The costs for off-the-shelf software products are typically much less than custom, in-house builds. You should see notable cost savings when using a vendor compared to an in-house plan. Costs are clearly spelt out at the onset of the project. Third parties are able to staff with top experts that can deliver the work and provide a consultation before, during and after implementation. Having this knowledge base available to you can be invaluable. A talented, seasoned staff leading the project can greatly reduce your time to execute. When outsourcing, you typically have an option where maintenance and support are included, thus eliminating the need for internal product management. When budget planning, you will know the recurring cost for licensing and maintenance.
Data scientists, data engineers, business analysts and implementation managers are just some of the roles an outsourced analytics provider employs. The costs of acquiring this expertise (either full-time or consultants) quickly adds up when associations try to tackle an analytics software solution in-house.
Time to Value or Return on Investment.
Build: In addition to “cost”, another challenge for in-house development is time. (And we all know that time is money, right?) With an internal solution, it can take years from the kick-off stage before you see a return on your investment. The first phase of crafting comprehensive requirements can be very time-intensive. The next step is to develop everything from scratch, including performing integrations with all of your other software platforms and building all the dashboards and visualisations for your performance metrics. Earlier, we mentioned the need to have the right people in the right roles. Recruiting and hiring can add weeks or months to the schedule. During implementation, your team will need to manage and execute multiple integration pieces. And don’t forget to test, test, test before launching. Once your solution is running…“will they come?” As with any new product or system, you have the risk of adoption. People can be averse to change.
Buy: With a software solution, the time to value is dramatically reduced. Out-of-the-box templates are easily configured to meet your business needs which significantly reduces the time-consuming requirements documentation phase. Having an experienced team who is solely focused on implementing your software accelerates your time to launch. They’ve done this before for other clients and are adept at the repeatable, proven processes which allow for quick and seamless integration. Solution providers also have proven approaches to product adoption as the challenges for implementing analytics platforms and the associated change management are similar across associations.
You can simply not underestimate the value of working with an analytics provider that has performed hundreds of integrations with all of the major association technology platforms. The time and cost savings (not to mention headaches averted) from this component alone make an outsourced approach the way to go.
Build: Customisation is one of the biggest benefits to building your own software solutions. You can tailor the requirements to meet your specific business needs. This gives you control to create exactly what you want. You can develop a product that addresses each of your unique business cases. You can hand-pick the team to develop exactly what you need, giving you total control of the product requirements and eliminating features you won’t use.
Buy: When you purchase a software product, you get a configurable solution. This allows you to pick and choose which features and functionality you want to use. Another benefit is that vendors integrate learnings from their other clients and industry best practices to strengthen their product offerings, making them experts in delivering turn-key products to meet the needs of their audience.
Associations across the board request similar dashboards and visualisations to help them accomplish their goals, which is why we built Acumen. If the hundreds of existing visualisations do not deliver what an association needs, Acumen also has a module that allows for the development of completely customised reports as well.
Sustainability and Scalability.
Build: Although your immediate requirements are important, you should also be forward-thinking and consider future usage. As we mentioned earlier, the biggest advantage of building your own system is that you can custom design your product. However, you need to be prepared for scalability. Can you easily dial up the number of employees working on the project or dial it down if you decide to scale back? As your business needs evolve, what is the level of effort needed to modify or improve your system?
Buy: When purchasing an off-the-shelf product, you get the benefit of flexible and extensible configurations. Your solution can be modified in the future to scale for growth. Technology is constantly improving. The vendor’s team of experts have the bandwidth to ensure that their products are incorporating the latest and greatest technologies. With evolving product enhancements, your system is regularly improving for a better user experience.
Underestimating the time and energy it takes to stay up-to-date with a customised approach is a critical oversight for in-house solutions. Most associations just don’t have the time, resources and expertise to keep up with new vendors, changing integration protocols and new technologies in the way that solution providers, whose primary business is developing and implementing software, can.
Visualise, Analyse and Take Action.
If you’re convinced it’s time to buy versus build your data analytics process, choosing the right software is vital in saving you time and money, improving processes, and preparing for the future.
Our data analytics platform, Acumen, was built specifically for associations to bring and blend all of your data together - to visualise, analyse and take action.