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The build vs. buy software guide

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

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Understand the benefits

Both building and buying have advantages. To best determine when to build or buy, consider the business need. What issue is the product tasked with solving? Does the prospective product add value? If so, how? Ultimately, the answer is unique to each organization.


Give your org an edge. Building a bespoke application allows your company to leverage a tool optimized for your business need(s). These expertly tailored applications fit around an organization’s unique process and value proposition. When built to enhance existing processes, they can have a direct and positive impact gaining efficiency, controlling cost, or generating revenue.

Licensing an off-the-shelf application means that multiple enterprises are using the same product to tackle the same issue. While it will meet the basic needs, it may not offer any unique advantage. Customizing an off-the-shelf product does deliver a slight advantage. The other enterprises and, perhaps, your competitors may also be using the same products as a base and driving additional value with their own enhancements.

Scale easily. Due to recent advances in software architecture design, custom containerized applications scale using individual processes. Making incremental improvements to a custom product allows the evolution of the tools alongside the business. It’s common for value-adding enhancements to be held back by rigid design patterns of licensed software. Proprietary software tailored for the enterprise helps companies run like a well-oiled machine. Software that is customized to a specific workflow and optimized for today’s connected world speeds up efficiency, profitability, and business growth.

Own the IP and roadmap. Businesses own and control the product roadmap. Enterprises need the flexibility to evolve and alter processes to accommodate market demands and opportunities. Bespoke software is a powerful tool that can directly impact the market valuation of an organization. An automated, productized service drives higher profitability and a higher multiplier in the instance of a transaction. By comparison, off-the-shelf product roadmaps are typically balanced to benefit all customers across all industries—leaving organizations at the mercy of the decisions made for the masses.


Someone already built the product. The product exists as a solution to an existing industry or process workflow. The current incarnation of the product includes user and market research. The design addresses a specific set of tasks or workflows and has been optimized for the bulk of its userbase. If mature, the product includes iterative improvements based on real-world feedback from other users. Large, key customers may be able to influence the roadmap.

Deliver outcomes fast. Businesses can address their workflow problem in just a few days or weeks—even within hours for some SaaS implementations. What a buyer waives in bespoke features, they gain in initial launch speed. For some companies, this speed-to-production is a valuable trade-off. For others, buying can quickly lock the org into a process that isn’t as flexible as necessary or a only address a subset of hidden requirements.

Readily access change management and support resources. Licensable products offer mature knowledge bases, training programs, available resources, courses, and more to facilitate onboarding. The goal of the solution provider is to add users in a fast and frictionless way. Mature sales operations offer support to achieve enterprise buy-in and align internal stakeholders in preparation for signing the product contract. If the internal decision-making process is complicated, this is a valuable benefit.

For a successful build, work with an experienced software development partner with cross-functional expertise across multiple disciplines such as product management, design and eengineering. Leveraging incremental releases tha are informed by user resarch will increase user adoption and deliver results faster.

For a successful buy, put in the work. Do the market research. Work with IT to evaluate integration plans, including customizations. Sticking to a timeline and understanding the roadmap helps avoid implementation failure and buyer’s remorse.

Warning: It’s easy to be wooed by a perfectly choreographed demo of a picturesque future-state. Implementing an ineffective product costs time and money.

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