Build or Buy - A Guide to Find 3rd-Party and
Bespoke Software Solutions that Help
Grow Your Business

Do you need to build or buy software solutions?

Have you outgrown your business with a paper-based manual system and are now thinking to automate by switching to digital? 

Are you seeing a bigger opportunity using the latest tech solutions? 

Would you like to give a better customer experience and gain an advantage over your competitors?

Choosing software that meets your customer’s needs and helps your business grow can give you a competitive advantage. As the technology matures in a particular field, you can do so much more with the right system. There are a few situations where you can clearly see the benefits of using fit-for-purpose software solutions.

  • You have a lot of repetitive tasks that take time and often cause human error or inconsistency.

  • You somehow know that tasks can be delegated to software to increase speed and efficiency. For example, a software system can easily help you scan your purchase receipts and store in a centralised location, instead of creating paper mess in your office.

  • Any existing hardware and software you have has become outdated and is no longer supported. Or the software crashes, is inflexible to customise for your specific need, while the overall cost of the license and maintenance has become problematic.

So what are the options to move on and grow your business? Yes, you have guessed correctly: you can build your own solution or buy something from the market. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

But how do you decide which one is right for you?

Whatever your reason to search for a fit-for-purpose software solution, this guide sets a framework for making an informed decision. At the end of this article, we have included a link to an evaluation worksheet that you can use to get guidance and make better software decisions.

3rd-Party Off-the-shelf Software Solution

First, let’s consider what’s available on the market to buy as a 3rd-party off-the-shelf software solution

Examples of 3rd-Party Software Solutions

You can probably pick up tens of hundreds of 3rd-party solutions in any given category. Here are just a few examples listed.

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems: e.g. Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365.

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Software Systems: e.g. SAP Business All-in-One.

  • E-commerce software: e.g. Shopify.

  • Content management system (CMS) software: e.g. WordPress, Drupal, etc

Advantages of 3rd-Party Software Solutions

If this is a right fit for you, there are many advantages of using already available solutions.

  • Maintain focus on your core business: You can save a lot of time by not ‘reinventing the wheel’ or developing anything from scratch. By using an industry-standard solution you can focus on your core business and grow your company.

  • Faster deployment: Off-the-shelf software can be purchased, and if needed downloaded, immediately. It often requires very little effort and time to get started. This also gives you quicker return on investment (ROI).

  • Affordable: In most cases, 3rd-party software will save you an upfront development cost. Instead, you will simply pay a small monthly or annual license fee. But remember to consider the recurring license fee, or the cost to increase users/licenses.

  • Feature-rich: Since most 3rd-party solutions operate in a competitive business environment, they are well-suited for regulated businesses, e.g. solicitors, accountants, and property management companies. Although you may need a fraction of features initially to get started, you can add lots of additional features without any significant further investment.

  • Updates and security: 3rd-party solutions are managed by a dedicated team of developers and experts who roll-out regular security updates. This ensures you are covered in the event of a security flaw within the underlying technology. This saves a lot of time and effort compared with maintaining your own solutions.

Disadvantages of 3rd-Party Software Solutions

There are some situations when 3rd-party solutions can put your business at risk. One example is paying for software that lacks ideal functionality.

  • Lack of control: As you don’t control or own the development of 3rd-party solution, your requested features or integration with other services might not be developed on-time. This can sometimes be a critical issue for your business.

  • Vendor lock-in: Some vendors make it hard to leave and switch to another provider. Consider this a major issue if your business needs are not being met by the vendor.

  • Waste on unnecessary features or unused licenses: Even though you don’t need many features or licenses sometimes, the 3rd-party solution’s business model will cause you to buy additional features or licenses.

  • Lack of competitive advantage: Sometimes you can build something that can give you better customer experiences rather than using a standard third-party solution, which may be used by many of your competitors.

  • Updates and security: 3rd-party solutions are managed by a dedicated team of developers and experts who roll-out regular security updates. This ensures you are covered in the event of a security flaw within the underlying technology. This saves a lot of time and effort compared with maintaining your own solutions.

5 Guiding principles for choosing 3rd-Party off-the-shelf software solutions

As the 3rd-party software solution landscape will evolve over time, you need some guiding principles to make a solid decision. Here are the top 5 from our analysis of dozens of business cases.

1) Understand what your customers need

Ask this question:

  • Does the 3rd-party solution satisfy most of your customers’ needs?

When you prioritize the needs of your customers, you will find your business is greatly optimized for sustainable growth. If the 3rd-party solution under evaluation meets the majority of your customers’ needs, then you can shortlist this solution for further scrutinizing.

2) Understand what you need

Apart from your customers’ needs, you also need to know if your business has standard business process which doesn’t differ much from the industry practice. Ask these questions:

  • Does the 3rd-party solution automate your standard business process?
  • Does the 3rd-party solution provide needed software integrations?

If you find you don’t need many custom features, or they are not that critical to your business, you can proceed.

2) 3rd-party Solution Offer

In most cases, it is worth to survey the market before signing up for any particular solution. Someone might refer to a solution some time ago, but the market may have changed. Now a better offer could be available. Ideally you’d like to find at least 3 potential offers to compare with the following probing questions.

  • Are the features and benefits of this solution relevant to your needs?
  • Is the pricing model of this solution acceptable for your business
  • Does this solution provide sufficient on-boarding training and support?
  • Does this solution provide necessary service-level agreements (SLA)?

If you get satisfactory answers from the above questions, you can do a check on risks.

3) Assess the risk of 3rd-party solution:

You need to be aware of potential limitations of the 3rd-party solution. For example, ask these questions:

  • Does this solution support all kinds of devices, e.g. desktops, tablets, smartphones?
  • Does this solution provide necessary data backup and restore options?

You can also add your own industry-specific risk-factors to filter solutions.

4) Understand the competitive advantages

Finally, you can check if you are getting any extra value from buying this solution. For example, you can ask:

  • Does the 3rd-party solution provide features that will help you to differ from the competition, such as an option for white-labeling their products?

These days, having an edge over a competitor can make your business grow faster than you can imagine.

Bespoke Software Solution

Bespoke software is where the solution is created based on your unique business processes and the needs of your users and customers.

Examples of Bespoke Software

You can create bespoke software in a particular or specialized area, or customise a freely available Open-source solution to meet your needs. Some examples include but are not limited to:

  • Bespoke business systems: These are built around your business, for example, bespoke CRM, ERP or CMS systems, web and mobile apps, etc. Particular business sectors can benefit most using a bespoke solution, such as restaurants, manufacturing, healthcare, and recruitment industries.

  • Bespoke technological systems: Such systems addresses a particular technology problem for your business, such as robotics, Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual-reality (VR) or augmented-reality (AR), 3D printing, wearable and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.

Advantages of Bespoke Software

Bespoke software can be great for your business if you need competitive advantages and have a budget and expertise, or you can afford to hire resources to handle the development, deployment and maintenance processes. Let’s have a look at the highlights of bespoke software.

  • Optimise for better development: As you have complete control over the processes and work-flows, you can choose a flexible development model maintaining a close relationship with developers and engineers. You can easily do custom system integration with other 3rd-party systems or internal systems.

  • Optimise for better operations: The simplicity and efficiency of a bespoke solution can give you relatively higher usability, easier user training, and better choices for long-term maintenance. Every action can be taken to make it more secure and transparent.

  • Long-term cost-saving and ROI: You can scale the solution for unlimited features and users, which can save you money and minimise wastage in the long term.

  • Competitive advantages: You can beat the competition by adding special features for customers, establish your unique selling points (USP), and define how you would like to differ from the competition.

  • Branding and ownership: Although 3rd-party solutions can give you options for white-labeling of products for an additional fee, you can gain full control over the branding and long-term ownership without paying any extra fees. This can give you an edge in case of future acquisitions or mergers.

Disadvantages of Bespoke Software

The flexibility, control and other benefits of bespoke solution comes with a price. The list below explores the disadvantages.

  • Higher initial cost of development and deployment: You need to put some significant amount of budget aside as most of the software development projects underestimate the cost and time of development and deployment.

  • Longer time to realise benefits and ROI: It will take longer before the benefits appear as you’ll likely go through several iterations of development before the final product starts delivering business value.

  • Higher risks: You need a certain level of in-house or contracted experts to manage and monitor the security and compliance, if any are needed.

  • Lost productivity: As you are dividing your focus to develop a bespoke software solution, your core business can be affected by not getting enough attention on key issues.

5 Guiding principles for choosing a bespoke software solution

We recommend you check this list of questions before making a concrete decision to proceed with a bespoke solution. These questions are similar to the case of selecting 3rd-party solutions. But they have a different viewpoint based on the context of selecting bespoke software solutions.

1) Understand what your customers need

For bespoke software solutions, pay particular attention to the below questions to reveal the needs of your customers:

  • Do you need to target a very niche market or custom demographics?
  • Do you need personalized options for your customers?

2) Understand what you really need

It is worth double-checking the below questions before commencing bespoke development:

  • Do you need to streamline the existing complex business processes?
  • Do you need custom integration with other in-house applications or 3rd-party solutions via APIs?
  • Do you need absolute control over every aspect of the software, e.g. branding, custom work-flow, custom features, etc.?

If you feel that you can’t answer NO to the above questions, then bespoke might be your optimal choice.

3) Estimate the time and budget

As we have pointed out, bespoke solutions require enough time and budget. Check these questions before you proceed:

  • Do you have a fine grain estimate of custom development?
  • Do you have the budget to go ahead?

4) Risk Assessments

You need to manage the risks associated with the bespoke solution. These are some sample questions you can ask:

  • Do you have arrangements for software life-cycle management. E.g. maintenance, bug-fixing, enhancements, etc?
  • Would you be able to handle future developments and maintenance?

Also feel free to build your own risk-profile questions and see if you are comfortable managing the risk-profile of your bespoke solution.

5) Understand the competitive advantages

Finally, you can check if the bespoke solution is giving any competitive edge for your business. You can use this question:

Do you need to differ from the competition in a way that no 3rd-party solution can offer?

Software Solution Need Analysis Worksheet

Purpose: The purpose of this worksheet is to help you evaluate your need to buy a 3rd party software solution or build a bespoke software solution.

Scoring Guidelines: The worksheet has 2 sections and each section has 10 questions or points to consider. You can gather info about any potential 3rd-party solution and evaluate them against those questions. You can score each answer (see the below dotted lines) in the scale of 0 to 5 where:

0 = Not Applicable to your situation, 1= You strongly disagree with the point, 2 = You disagree with the point to some extent, 3 = You neither agree nor disagree with the point, 4 = You agree with the point to some extent, 5 = You strongly agree with the point.

Finally you can add the score from all points across all available solutions and then compare them with each other or with the bespoke solution.

This worksheet is available to download from here.

Need further help?

We hope you can assess your business situation better than many but if you need any help to understand a solution, or want an estimate of the cost of a bespoke solution, give us a shout.