Topic: IT Resourcing

IT Leaders—Is it Time to Buy More and Build Less?


4 minute read

By Jake Ellis

Is the time and cost invested in building software truly worth it, or can buying offer a faster, more efficient path to success?  Let’s consider both sides of this argument, delve into the pros and cons of build vs. buy, examine the allure of bespoke systems, pre-built solutions, and the developing business culture that prioritizes speed and agility.

Building bespoke: perfect fit or perfect storm?

Gone are the days of limited options and amateur development. Today, businesses face a wave of sophisticated pre-built platforms catering to diverse needs.

Businesses are now building custom software solutions faster than ever before, thanks to the rise of “no-code/low-code” tools. However, is this newfound agility really the best thing for your business or should you look to buy your next software solution?

This debate isn’t new, but the landscape has shifted.

Building your own software has a certain allure. Imagine a system tailor-made to your exact needs, seamlessly integrating into your workflow and offering complete control. That’s the dream driving the “build” side of the debate. The reality, however, can be more complex. 

Development time is unpredictable, and a significant hurdle. Crafting a bespoke system can take weeks and months, compared to the readily available off-the-shelf (highly configurable) options. This translates to delayed implementation, which can stifle business growth and limit your ability to capitalize on opportunities.

According to Gartner the average time to deploy custom enterprise applications is 18 months.

Cost is another factor. Beyond initial development, ongoing maintenance and updates add to the expense. You’ll also need to consider the expertise required – either hiring skilled developers or managing external teams, both with their own complexities.

Skill gaps can derail even the most well-planned projects. In-house teams might lack specific expertise, and finding the right external partners can be challenging. These gaps can lead to delays, compromises, and even project failure.

Outsourcing development (or SOW resourcing) offers a potential solution but comes with its own limitations. Communication difficulties, vendor lock-in, and potential control issues can negate the benefits of building to your specific needs.

While the dream of a perfect fit is enticing, challenges associated with building can be substantial. Before diving in, it is essential to carefully consider the time, cost, and talent required, and weigh them against the potential downsides.

The pre-built path: efficiency or compromise?

Gone are the days of clunky, off-the-shelf software that barely fit your needs. Today’s pre-built solutions are sophisticated, meticulously designed, and adaptable to cater to diverse industry demands. They offer a compelling alternative to building from scratch, presenting advantages that go beyond mere convenience.

The most apparent benefit is ‘reliable’ speed to market. You can be up and running in weeks, even days, compared to the months or years it takes to build custom software. This translates to faster innovation, quicker responses to market trends, and ultimately, a competitive edge.

McKinsey report that companies using pre-built solutions achieved two to three times faster time-to-market compared to those building custom solutions.

Cost is another significant advantage. Pre-built solutions often require upfront licensing fees instead of sustained development expenses. Ongoing maintenance and updates are typically handled by the vendor, further reducing your cost burden.

Furthermore, these platforms come equipped with a wide range of features, many readily available out of the box. This eliminates the need for costly, time-consuming development of basic functionalities.

However, it’s important to acknowledge potential drawbacks.

While features may be plentiful, finding the “perfect fit” for your unique needs can be challenging. Pre-built solutions typically offer limited customization options, requiring you to adapt your workflow rather than the other way around.

Vendor lock-in is another potential concern. Switching to a different platform down the line can be complex and costly, making you reliant on your chosen vendor for updates and support.

Vendor solutions can silo data and complicate integrations. The ‘after the party’ headache of unregulated purchases of Software-as-a-Service solutions can be the double headache of applications sprawl (that makes managing applications a nightmare for central IT teams) and a fragmented data architecture that makes the re-use of data by departmental teams almost impossible.  Certainly, for many organizations, the consequence of a free-for-all in software purchases has resulted in a significant hampering of data analytics and ‘data driven business’ potential.

While pre-built solutions may not offer the ‘bespoke perfection’ of a custom system, they are a compelling alternative for projects prioritizing speed, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

From building tools to building outcomes

The development agenda of business technology is changing. Traditionally, companies focused on building their own software tools, often prioritizing internal development and customization. However, business today demands a different approach: focusing on core value delivery rather than internal tool-building.

Speed and agility are paramount in business. Those who can quickly adapt to changing needs and capitalize on emerging opportunities gain a significant competitive advantage. Building custom software, while potentially offering a perfect fit, often comes at the cost of delayed implementation and missed opportunities.

This doesn’t mean internal technical expertise is obsolete. However, the focus is shifting towards strategic integration and optimization of existing solutions. Instead of building from scratch, businesses can leverage pre-built platforms and readily available tools, adapting them to their specific needs. This frees up valuable resources and allows teams to focus on their core competencies, ultimately delivering greater value to customers.

In a 2023 report, Accenture found that 72% of businesses believe pre-built platforms allow them to focus more on their core competencies by offloading IT development tasks.

Think of it this way: building your own house brick by brick might offer ultimate control and customization, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Pre-built houses, while not perfectly tailored, offer a quicker and more efficient path to shelter, allowing you to focus on furnishing and making it your own.

The era of building just for the sake of building is over. The focus now lies on building outcomes: delivering value to customers and achieving business goals. By embracing pre-built solutions and leveraging strategic internal expertise, businesses can achieve greater agility, efficiency, and ultimately, success.

Is it time to rethink your software strategy?

The game has changed.

Relentlessly focus on value

Agonizing over building the perfect custom software tool can mean missing out on fleeting opportunities and losing the competitive advantage to your rivals. The focus has shifted from building apps to delivering outcomes, from internal tool development to customer value creation.

Minimize your time to market

it’s no longer a suggestion, it’s a necessity. Pre-built solutions offer a powerful path to achieve this, empowering you to deliver your core business value rapidly and efficiently. Remember, you’re not selling the intricate details of your internal build process; you’re selling the capability and impact it delivers to your customers.

Embrace the shift

This will mean you can focus your internal expertise on strategic optimization and value creation. By doing so, you’ll not only minimize your time to market, but also unlock the true potential of your business, leaving the era of build for the sake of building firmly in the past.

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