When To Build Or Buy Software

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Build or Buy
Most ordinary people to not often consider the option of whether to build or buy software. This is because building software is not a routine activity. Most people just buy the software they need and are not even aware they could build their own.

As a web developer, I face this choice on a regular basis when building web apps and websites. Of course I often do not get this need for my own projects but for projects of clients. When you build several project over time, you learn of situations that work and those that don’t.

Being a web developer, I often build components of web applications from scratch but other times purchase components to be used in my projects. Several factors go into deciding when I will build components from scratch or purchase them.

For individuals, the question of whether to build or buy software will rarely come up because when individuals think of software, they are often talking about something to use on their computer or mobile phone and often individuals do no require custom software.

Businesses on the other hand often have needs and requirements that are unique and will sometimes require custom software to be developed. Such businesses sometimes find they  have needs that cannot be met by something off the shelf.

There are advantages to building your own software and obviously disadvantages that go with that choice. Some of the considerations to weigh in follow.

Needs and Requirements

One reason for building software has to do with needs and requirements. Supposing you needed an accounting software for your business but find that there is nothing currently on the market that meets your requirements and needs.

One approach around this problem would be to buy the closest thing to what you need and then try to make the best out of it and make it work for you. Obviously this situation is less than ideal because you will be operating at a suboptimal level. It will not be a good fit.

Another option would be to buy a package that is close to your requirements and then hire someone to modify it to make it work for you. There are other challenges with this approach one of which is that it is not easy to modify someone else's work that was designed for another purpose. 

When there is no fit off the shelf, this is where it makes sense to hire someone to build the software you need so that it precisely meets your particular requirements. In this approach, your ideal requirements will be met and you will get a best fit.

A Matter Of Time

Choosing to build software from scratch involves making the decision to delay having it immediately on hand. Software development takes time and you might have to wait several months or even a couple of years before you can use the software you need.

Unfortunately when people need software, they often need it yesterday. If however there is nothing on the shelf that suits your needs you will have to wait for your software developer to complete the development process.

In contrast, buying software grants instant gratification. In most cases and for small applications, you can buy the software and start using it almost immediately. That is the advantage of the buy option; there is virtually no waiting time from the time of purchase to the time of starting to use the software.

A Question Of Cost

Since software development is a process that takes time and expertise, it comes with a hefty price tag. It is often much cheaper to buy software than it is to have it custom built by a large difference of magnitude.

What makes custom built software so expensive is that often no one else would want to use it besides the person or organization who commissioned that it be built. The more customly specific a piece of software, the more likely that no one else would have interest in using it.

Custom software is so specific to the owner that it is usually not transferable to other users who may have different requirements and preferences. Off the shelf software on the other hand is built for general use and meets the needs of a large number of people in a general way.

Because there are no other users demanding a custom piece of software, the person who commissions it has to foot the entire bill for its development. By comparison, general purpose software meets the needs of many users who share the cost for its development.

Ability To Customize

As already mentioned, it is not easy to customize already developed software that was designed for another purpose. Therefore if you want software that behaves differently from what is on the shelf, you need to have it custom built.

There is also another obstacle to customizing software. The source code may not be available if the software is not open source. Open source software is software that makes available the code for building the software so that others may modify it.

If software is not open source, the developer who is meant to customize it has no basis on which to customize it since source code, rather than the finished product is necessary to customize software.

The Bottom Line

When the choice comes for you to decide whether you want to buy software for your business or have it custom built, among the things you will have to consider is whether there is nothing already on the shelf that meets your needs.

You will have to evaluate whether there is a possibility to customize something that already exists rather than going for a fully custom solution. You also need to be conscious of the fact that building your own software takes time and is relatively more expensive than buying.

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