Build vs. Buy? 5 Questions to Help You Decide

Bob Selfridge | 7/12/2021

Topics: data literacy, Minitab Connect

Build it or buy it? If you haven’t had this conversation yet, rest assured that your day is coming. Organizations regularly face challenges that require technical software solutions, from automating scheduling and logistics, to analyzing digital supply chain management, to organizing and securing terabytes of system or customer data. The success of your department (or the organization as a whole) can rest on implementing the right technology. 

Finding the optimal solution often means determining whether to buy a software solution or rely on an internal team to build one from scratch. In my time working with customers and clients, I know you (and whomever manages your budget) can’t treat decisions about enterprise-level technology lightly—which is why I’ve dedicated a blog series to the intricacies of this challenging, yet common question.  

I have compiled five key questions to help you take a deep dive into understanding your organization and whether you should build or buy. This process will offer details into your internal processes, capabilities, and the issues you’re hoping to resolve. Let’s get started!

1. Have you established your requirements? 

Start by defining what you need your technology solution to do to support your business goals. This is a critical step and must be done thoughtfully. Be specific and have a clear vision in mind, including prioritization of the requirements, including:  

  • What is the ideal solution to your problem? 
  • What are the features and functions needed of the software?  

After you’ve determined your requirements for the solution, be just as precise about how it can be realized:  

  • Who will use it?  
  • How technically savvy are those users?  
  • Who will its outputs benefit?

2. Are your challenges unique?... Are you sure? 

Next, consider if your challenges are truly unique. Building a homegrown system is always an option for organizations with unique challenges and an internal software engineering team. But as you consider this, remember there’s a good chance that the problems you’re running into are shared by many other companies, and don’t require a new build from scratch. Let’s be honest. You’re not the first to struggle with protection of HIPAA or financial data, nor are you the first to seek on-demand or automated data feeds. Be clear about how common your challenges are so the final decision to buy or build is truly the best choice. 

3. What is needed to set a solution in action? 

Assess the talent, expertise, and workforce within your organization to further clarify if building the appropriate software solution is a realistic choice. What is your organization’s true capacity to support, maintain, and troubleshoot, and what is the opportunity cost? What won’t get done if you choose to build in-house? A highly skilled engineering team that’s swamped with other tasks, or whose primary responsibility is in everyday systems administration will have little bandwidth to devote to a custom build. An organization with frequent employee turnover likely sees institutional knowledge diminish over time, making it difficult to sustain a one-of-a-kind system.  

4. How much time do you have? 

Consider one of the most crucial resources of all: time. Keep a close eye on your event horizon, keeping in mind critical deadlines, when you want to implement a new solution, and how it might interact with other plans and departments. Remember, no matter the expertise you have on tap, a self-developed system can require significant time to build, test, and onboard. It is also good practice to add additional buffer to any software engineering project timeline, to account for unanticipated—but inevitable—snags that arise along the way. 

5. Are there open lines of communication? 

Clear communication between everyone—information security, sales, marketing, IT teams, and more—is necessary to ensure the needs of all relevant parties are addressed by your new business solution.  

  • Does engineering understand why marketing needs data sets organized and delivered the way they do?  
  • Do analysts know how IT would like to be involved in the process?  
  • Is there a consensus on the team’s methodology for software development?  
  • Are engineers open to insights from an outside vendor?  

Get on the same page by having these (sometimes difficult) discussions early and often. 

As you dig into questions like these with a range of people, don’t underestimate the benefit outside experts can also offer. Talking with vendors who are regularly involved with discussions and decisions like this can bring attention to gaps you aren’t aware of and can offer a consultative approach to your decision-making process. 

Now, it’s decision time. Do you build or buy? The process of determining the best approach to achieving your business goals with an enterprise software solution may be complex, but the benefits of identifying a solution optimized for your needs is worth it. Check out Part 2 of this blog series for our perspective on why buying is the way to go for your data integration and prep needs.

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