The build vs. buy guide

The complete guide for enterprises building custom products, buying software, or customizing off-the-shelf application software

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Plan for the future

Successful enterprises offer a healthy blend of both purchased and custom applications. It’s important to know when to build and when to buy. Always look at the anticipated outcome to inform the expected value add of either option.

Build a custom application as a differentiator. 

Current market pressures from rapid digitization of services enable competitors to respond to customers faster, with additional insight, and stickier service. Bespoke products empower enterprises to be leaner, faster, or more engaging over competing market offerings.  

Buy a product to solve issues experienced broadly in business.

This approach is typically relevant to industry-agnostic functions like accounting, inventory, email, e-commerce, and content management. Purchased products are already built and set up for quick delivery.  

Customize licensed software to deliver semi-custom outcomes fast.

When faced with an emerging technical capability such as machine learning capabilities, unstructured data, business insight, containerization, voice, or a need to address a common issue, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Consider buying an off-the-shelf product and enhancing it with custom features.

The checklist

No matter the choice—build, buy, or hybrid, consider the following:

  • Establish and review product success metrics. Measurable, specific, and achievable metrics should drive adoption and change. 

  • Account for change management. Change management is the largest area of risk outside of implementation/ development failures. 

  • Shorten the release cycle. The initial release should take four to six months at most. Executing in dual-track scrum agile releases, incorporate incremental functionality every two weeks after.

  • Leverage learning along the way. Collect user data and implement user feedback. Be ready to abandon the effort, even with high sunk costs, if the metrics are not meeting expectations.

  • Address product and technical debt. Actively track and remove technical debt from the product. Product debt is inevitably accrued as the business or workflow evolves.

  • Use a product-centric funding strategy. Fund products, not projects. Look at the lifetime cost of owning the product, including ongoing maintenance and feature improvements to inform the decision.

  • Keep an eye on the product roadmap. Roadmaps make or break the long-term success of an implementation. Make sure the solution features a forward-looking product roadmap to keep pace with market and competitive demands. The same applies to the build roadmap—always work to look ahead, balancing the business, customer, and technical needs.

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