Build vs. Buy

The “Build v. Buy” subject is a very important topic that I’ve experienced many times over the years. Currently I am in evolved in a brand new project that is a huge implementation across the entire campus, and we’ve encountered this debate over and over again during the process. But, as of the writing of this post, I am pretty sure we are going to go with building the system ourselves as the infrastructure is critical to our success. There are a few team members, myself included, that believe building it is the way to go (for many reasons), yet there are still a select few who would opt to drop ten times the amount of money for a product that isn’t exactly what we need from a vendor who is looking to cash a check. I should mention that the those who support building it are capable employees who are going to be directly involved with the operation of the system, and those who entertain a vendor’s product will never use it once it is purchased. So, I think that might have something to do with it.

Another example that comes to mind is a piece of education software we had developed recently for iOS. Without getting into the specifics of the project, we ended up going to a vendor for the implementation and six months later, they went out of business. From the beginning I pushed for us to create it internally from scratch to save an enormous amount of money and for the flexibility we would have to make changes and modify the code as we see fit. The vendor crafted the software in such a way that only a few aspects are customizable and to make the significant updates we are needing now (which is a few years later) is practically impossible because the whole system needs to be reworked to allow those changes.  I’ve developed iOS apps myself and know that it can be done effectively and quickly. While templates and packaged solutions exist from third party developers, my experience is that those templates do not really perform the functions needed in the present, nor will they cover the future needs, that our organization would require. My basis for my decision with regard to this project was core vs. context. As the document states, “it is in the Core areas that organizations gain strategic advantage, and where information systems must conform to business processes, not the reverse” (Ledeen, n.d.). The argument was that the iOS education software we needed would have differentiated us from the competition and created value for the brand.

A system that would be a good candidate for a custom build is one that would “impact the unique nature of the business” and support the core activities “that contribute directly to the organizations differentiation and value creation” (Ledeen, n.d.). An example of a custom build could be a ticketing system at a museum where revenue and sales is a direct contributor to the organization’s success. This type of system would be unique to that organization because each museum would have different needs with regard to their strategic plan and goals. The coverage of a packaged solution would probably not fit the organizations needs or requirements as much as a custom build would. Also, a packaged solution would not be as flexible or easily manipulated to meet future needs. A custom solution takes some time to build and would require “continued availability of development resources, either in-house, or through partners, to respond to changing requirements” (Ledeen, n.d.). But, that should be acceptable and made a priority because this application supports a core area within the organization.

A system that would not be a good candidate for a custom build would be one that has low strategic significance because “applications that do not impact the unique nature of the business rarely warrant the attention that custom solutions demand” (Ledeen, n.d.). An example of this could be a Digital Asset Management system such as Extensis Portfolio. This packaged system offers a file management system database for company collections up 10 million assets, so I would not expect many organizations to make a system like this themselves. This system covers the data and file management needs of large organizations with lots of media well. With this system, an organization would only pay for the specific features they need or they can add them in as time goes on and needs change. Because this is a vendor package, it will always be current with the always evolving web browser and OS technology. Also, this system is fast to implement and allows users to start working right away and focus on their real business objectives because it utilizes industry standards like browser languages and file formats.

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