To Build or Buy?

To Build or Buy?

Have you ever struggled with this age-old I.T. question: whether to build a custom, in-house software application or to buy one ready-made or ‘off the shelf’? 

Well, you are not alone.  The original blog series was motivated by my conversations with both current and prospective customers and it really struck me – we are facing this issue more and more often as we increasingly rely on technology to enhance productivity and to work smarter overall.

As we are driven ‘to do more with less’, our new productivity tools need to be effective.  We also need to have done our due diligence investigating all the options during the planning phase, otherwise, we may end up duplicating our work effort down the road, having spent valuable time and resources on a solution that is simply not viable – and no one can afford that.

So here are some questions to provide food for thought about custom, in-house application development:

  1. Are you willing to be the project champion and potentially the project manager? If not, who will be and are you in agreement on the purpose and business functionality of the application?
  2. If you’re the champion/manager, are you very clear about and have documented the absolute must-haves of your application? Have you consulted all key stakeholders/end users and do they agree?
  3. Do you have access to I.T./development staff and management approval to utilize their resources? How many people will be needed, for how long and at what cost?
  4. Do developers understand the look, functionality, and workflow of what you’re asking for?
  5. Do developers have the capability to hit the ground running on your project, that is, the coding ability, the computer software, hardware and infrastructure required?
  6. Can developers give you an estimate of the time it will take to build your application? Do you and stakeholders agree with it? If not, what will have to give? – the amount of time needed to deliver, the quality or the cost of the application?
  7. Assume your project runs over time as the majority of projects do. What is the absolute latest delivery date?  What is your contingency plan if the latest delivery date is not met?  Do stakeholders and management agree?
  8. Have you documented with stakeholders and management the conditions under which the project will be abandoned if it is no longer seen as viable?
  9. How much will it cost your department or I.T. to maintain the system, make necessary upgrades when software is updated or when you require new enhancements? What is the expected turnaround time on these?  Are these conditions acceptable?
  10. Will support for end users and training be available on an ongoing basis? If not, what will happen as a result?


The more unsure you are of the information above, the more predictive it could be of a project at risk of failure, of running over budget, over time or not meeting important requirements.  From the Standish Group, 68% of all I.T. projects fall under these categories.1


Still in the very early stages of research?  Here is a single question you may wish to consider:  What is the driving force behind the development of the application? 

  • If time to deliver isn’t a concern but revenue generation and a competitive edge are, then you may want to consider in-house application development.2
  • If training, support, and future maintenance, as well as time to deliver, are important AND the off the shelf application has most of the features you need, then that solution may be the better choice…3

We and our readers would love to hear what you’ve decided to do and what was most compelling in your decision to Build or Buy.  Good luck!

1 The Standish Group Newsroom, Chaos Report 2009.  Boston Massachusetts, April 23, 2009.

2 Polly S. Traylor, InfoWorld, November, 2009.

3 Craig Borysowich,, Nov 11, 2006.

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