Build or Buy…or Something Else

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To build or buy – it’s a question that’s kept IT managers awake for decades.

Should you licence a commercial product that will meet 75% of your requirements or should you take the risk of building your own bespoke system for a potential greater reward?

The decision usually comes down to more than one factor but a huge consideration when deciding whether or not to build is the availability of technical resources. Whether it’s an in-house development team or an outsourced provider the bottom line is that good developers aren’t cheap and even the best don’t have the business knowledge that exists in the heads of the operations managers.

Increasingly, especially for niche processes, the industry can address this dilemma by employing a third option: Business Process Management software.

The best BPM applications are powerful toolsets that can be used to build applications to manage processes across any industry. Importantly, they also empower business process owners by changing the toolset that’s required to ‘build’ a software solution from that of a developer to that of an analyst or trained non-technical user.

With BPM applications becoming more sophisticated and capable of modelling entire platforms not just simple processes, the discussion has begun to evolve.

Where it used to just be a question of ‘Build or Buy’ there’s now the option of ‘Buy to Build’.

A common attribute of an off-the-shelf system is that they can’t easily be changed or customised by the end user – they are ‘fixed’. If your business changes then it is difficult or impossible to alter the software to accommodate your new business process.

We see this all the time in IT projects; a newly deployed software solution works well from day 1 but it only takes a few months before users become aware that they need to capture data that wasn’t originally specified or included in the product. This is when the first spreadsheets start to appear.

Companies find themselves in a situation where they are having to adapt the way they do business to fit around their software.

In addition, especially when deciding to build your own bespoke system, there is a huge front-loading of risk. Long and expensive analysis phases are necessary because the end product can’t be changed – it’s expensive to design BECAUSE it’s expensive to change. Think of it like modelling using clay vs. sculpting out of stone, you’d better hope you don’t slip with the hammer and chisel!

The underlying problem with fixed systems is that they are based on two flawed assumptions:

  1. Whoever built the software knows your business and exactly how it works

If this assumption was true then it would follow that every company that used the same off the shelf system was essentially the same and operated in exactly the same way. This is clearly not the case, otherwise why would a customer choose your company over any of your competitors that offer the same product? The services you offer are not a commodity. There may be 80% similarities but it’s the all important 20% difference that makes your company unique and gives you an edge over the competition.

In addition, buying off-the-shelf is an exercise in compromise. Instead of being able to choose the software that includes all the features they require, companies often have to settle for the one that omits the least. To make matters worse, they end up paying for features that they will never use.

  1. The way your business works now is the way it will always work

The second assumption is another clear misconception; I’ve never come across a CEO who believes that whatever got their company to where it is today is sufficient to keep it there. Good businesses are constantly evolving to keep pace with changing industries and to stay ahead of the competition. Standing still can be fatal and companies must adapt to stay relevant, just look at how Blockbuster fared against Netflix, or where Kodak ended up when it failed to embrace the digital revolution.

Although not suitable for all scenarios, BPM applications provide a way to rapidly deploy software solutions in a way that reduces risk by allowing the software to evolve as the business does. A solid BPM application should be presented not as a blank canvas but as a packaged solution that represents the 80% of common best-practice functionality in any process. The remaining 20% should be yours to own.

Ask not what you can do with your software, but what your software can do for you.

Take a look at our short video to see how quick an easy it is to build applications from scratch with LEAP. Our process analysts will configure your system for FREE and we can train you to change it yourself at any time.

Get in touch for a demo of the system in action, or take a look at our other videos that show great features such as Reporting, Workflow and Documents.