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Should you buy or build your software package

Every business has day to day operational requirements that software applications must meet. Some requirements are more specific than others and no two businesses are completely alike. Off the shelf software can meet many of these needs, but not all. So, the question becomes, should you buy or build?
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Building your own software has certain advantages. For one thing, it’s possible to build software that exactly fits your business. Off the shelf software tends to force a business to follow common agreements that may not fit your business model.

It’s also easier to make changes to in house software, as it is proprietary and doesn’t require bringing a provider into the loop who may not have a real understanding of your unique requirements. In house software can be more easily modified to meet changing requirements, as it is already specifically built for your business. That is if you are willing to meet configuration management requirements.

Off the shelf systems usually entail buying a package of several applications that might not integrate well under your specific circumstances. This can create mystery problems that aren’t easy to solve. This is especially true if performing certain actions requires a number of applications to be operating simultaneously and problems can be exacerbated by the need to interact with legacy systems. And you can be sure that you will have to compromise your requirements. The chances of finding a pre-made package that meets all your needs will be slim.

However, building your own software has disadvantages as well. It can be quite expensive, not only in development but in updating to meet changing business needs. It requires a development team of specialists who don’t come cheap and software testing cannot be done by just anyone. Supporting in house built software also requires the continuous presence of a maintenance team that can jump on any problem that comes up. Then there’s the problem of reinventing the wheel. No matter how exotic your software requirements, much of what happens on a daily basis, in any business, can be handled by software that already exists.

The reality is that the question of buy or build depends on what a company's products or services are. The more complex or unique the product or service, the more likely the need to build rather than buy. For example, a company selling electronics online might be able to work with off the shelf software, at least for quite a while. On the other hand, financial services may need to develop much of their own software for security reasons and organizations engaged in scientific research may not find open source software that meets their needs. Ultimately, it comes down to choosing the platform that fits your business needs and that may mean either buying off the shelf or building your own, or a bit of both.


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