By Jody Carter

If you struggle with deciding whether to purchase off-the-shelf software or have a custom application developed, you’re not alone.  This is a common question that many organizations struggle with when deciding the best way to solve their unique business challenges and it can be a very difficult question to answer.  We can’t answer that question for you but here we will attempt to provide some guidance for making the best decisions to drive business value and minimize costs.

Whether you decide to buy an off-the-shelf solution or to hire a company to build a custom solution, the most critical thing is to fully understand and define what it is you are trying to do. Most software implementations, both off-the-shelf and custom, fail because they are not addressing the correct problem.  Start by defining your objective at a high level.  For example, “We want to automate the processing of vendor invoices to reduce the costs of manual labor and increase the accuracy of accounting data”.  You should always define where you are currently and where you want to be when the software is in place.

After defining the “big picture” objective, there are often many processes that need to be documented and discussed to get from where you are now to the desired end-result.  In many cases, it is this process that will guide you to the answer to the buy vs. build question.  If your business processes are standard for your industry and don’t change very often then there may be an industry specific off-the -shelf solution that will meet your needs.  However, if your processes are unique or if they may change frequently to meet changing business demands, a custom developed solution may be more appropriate.

It is critical during this process that you have a technology team or partner that has a wide range of both business and technical experience who is willing to put aside technology and really listen and understand your processes and objectives.  If someone starts talking technology or solutions before they understand your objectives and processes, that’s a sign that you’re talking to the wrong people.  Don’t just walk away, run away because your initiative is doomed from the start.  A good team or partner will not be biased by technology or the desire to build software.  A good team will provide recommendations that meet your objectives while controlling costs.”