Build vs. Buy? It's time to Build.

Skip navigation

Build vs. Buy? It’s time to Build.

Build vs. Buy? It’s time to Build. by David Bevans

When it comes to the debate of whether to build custom or buy commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software, organizations have leaned more heavily towards buying in the past 20-plus years. It makes sense, too. Historically, building has been expensive (53% of projects cost 189% of their original estimate) and time-consuming (organizations cancel 31% of build projects.)

However, the conversation is changing.

COTS software is not without its issues and costs, too, still requiring you to develop extensive customizations, workarounds, and creative rigging to achieve a functional integration with your IT infrastructure. With modern technologies such as serverless, low code, and various XaaSes, as well as practices like DevOps, the argument of build vs. buy isn’t as cut and dry anymore. The way you build custom software solutions has evolved and with these new technologies, organizations are now realizing higher ROI and faster time-to-market.

Head-of-the-class ROI

NC State University has achieved great results by opting to build rather than buy. Units across the NCSU campus had developed their own solutions for non-credit registration management using SharePoint, Access, sticky notes, and spreadsheets. The data disparity created inefficiencies, so the university sought out a new way to support the management of that non-credit enrollment system. Resource constraints like time and budget made building a custom Java application in house unfeasible, so NCSU opted to release an RFP. The quotes they received from COTS vendors were staggeringly high: $3-10M over 5 years.

Building custom solutions is different now, however. Modern development technologies and practices have broken down a lot of the walls that traditional development had built up over the years, walls that slowed projects and killed budgets. For example, DevOps practices have dissolved the silos between R&D and Ops to allow developers to launch software faster at a higher quality.

Another technology that’s redefining what it means to build is low code, which is what Gwen Hazlehurst, Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Enterprise Application Services at NCSU, used to enable a team of student developers with little prior coding experience to build a solution in house.

“We charged our student interns with the task of researching other options,” she says. “That’s when we started to become aware of low-code platforms as an alternative to rapidly develop and deliver code.”

Using low code, a team of student interns built an MVP of the system called REPORTER, in just over two months. Three months later, the full system was launched. The total cost of REPORTER: low six-figures and six months to release.

A healthy dose of savings

It’s clear that the conversation around building custom apps in house is changing. To see this, one needs to look no further than Saga Healthcare, the UK’s leading elder advocate. Using low code, Saga entered a new market and was able to extend the commitment and services they offered their customers.

Prior to low code, Saga was looking to develop a new system that would help them provide home health care services to seniors. Saga first looked at outsourcing development for the custom application. After being quoted by a vendor at £12M with a three-year build time, Saga looked for other options. Aside from the high costs and lengthy development time, Saga also needed a way to quickly make changes to their application to address business and market demands. They weren’t going to get that with a solution built out of house.

Building is different now. Saga and organizations like them don’t have to rely on expensive outsourced development to create the solutions they need to make.

At Saga, a mandate from CEO Lance Batchelor had inspired the IT team to use unconventional thinking to consider alternatives to building solutions that would allow them to accentuate the value of the application, make changes as needed, all at a reasonable cost. Following this directive, Saga IT decided to develop with the Mendix low-code platform. With low code, the IT team built a care-at-home scheduling system, SACHA, in just six months for less than £250k, realizing a 97.9% costs savings.

On top of cost-savings from building with low code, Saga has been able to quickly penetrate and disrupt a new market. At six months, Saga was able to enter the market 2.5 years earlier than expected. Matt Smith, head of Saga Healthcare’s IT Team, best sums up the results: “Our ability to make quick changes and roll out new technology with Mendix is enabling us to rapidly grow the business across the UK.”

Building has changed

So, build or buy? Before now, your options were to buy and release software faster but lose agility, or build your own software and maintain that agility but risk a costly or failed project. But with the latter, that’s not the case anymore. Low code and other technologies are changing how you build and are changing the conversation. Learn how by clicking the banner below.

Author Info

David Bevans