When is it worth building a dedicated IT solution?
Choosing a suit is a serious undertaking. On the one hand, we can go to the store and simply buy one that appeals to us. Before we decide to do so, we can view, evaluate and try on many types of suits. We can adjust the chosen model to ourselves to a limited extent. The time to make such adjustments is short. And if the price is too low or too high we can always change stores.
On the other hand, if you can't find a suitable model or want the suit to fit 100 percent, you can always have it tailor-made. Of course, the time to prepare such an outfit and its cost increase significantly. And the final result may not match our expectations.
After this brief introduction, I propose an exercise. Let's read the above text again, only replace the word suit with the word IT solution. Yes, IT systems are like suits. The difference is that they cost hundreds of thousands or millions of zlotys, so the decision on whether it's worth building a dedicated solution is much more important. To make it easier, let's take a look at five reasons indicating that it's worth it.
When deciding to develop an in-house IT solution, companies most often point out that their business processes and the activities they carry out are so unique that no off-the-shelf IT system will be able to handle them. I'll admit that I've heard this argument many times, and more often than not, upon deeper examination, it turned out to be untrue. Of course, every organization is unique, but each also has competitors that implement similar business processes in one way or another.
So before we declare that no system meets our expectations, let's take a longer moment to analyze existing solutions, consult with our trusted suppliers. Of course, the conclusions may indicate that it is worth building a solution from scratch. But I want to emphasize that the thesis that our business processes are unique is easy to make, but much harder to defend.
Continuing the previous thread, we must look at the other side of the coin. Organizations in one industry, although similar to each other, nevertheless have certain characteristics. These usually determine their competitive advantage. And here, it is indeed much more often worthwhile to use dedicated IT systems.
If we are building a customer portal to be customized and become our business card, it is indeed worth considering a dedicated solution. Similarly, if we want to lead in the area of customer service. If this is the axis of our advantage, it may be worth investing in a dedicated system. After all, if we're looking for an edge in algorithms then it's probably worth it, not a boxed version available to everyone, but something tailor-made. A dedicated system is a good idea if it's going to make the difference.
If you run a large business, have a lot of data or many customers then it may be that off-the-shelf solutions cannot cope in terms of performance. Systems of this type were developed under specific conditions, probably in cooperation with specific customers. Consequently, the architecture and therefore the performance of these systems, was probably adapted to those cases. But what if we are a company ten times larger than those?
The answer is simple. Before investing in an off-the-shelf solution, it's a good idea to verify the architecture aspect of the solution. The idea is to verify that it is definitely scalable and will meet our needs. What is important in the current market, and what you need to keep in mind, is that just saying that a system runs in the cloud does not guarantee its scalability.
At this point I have to return to the introduction of this article for a moment. It's been established that off-the-shelf systems are cheaper than dedicated systems. And in the vast majority of cases this is the case. However, there are exceptions here as well. When calculating the total cost of ownership of a system over five years, we must take into account mainly the cost of implementation, licensing, maintenance and making changes to the system. It is worth counting these costs for both options, because we may be very surprised. Not long ago, I witnessed a situation in which the cost of implementation and licensing for the first year was higher than the entire 5-year TCO for a dedicated system.
Of course, the differences may be due to the fact that dedicated systems may have functionalities that our organization does not need at all, or they are implemented by a completely different solution in our IT ecosystem. However, the conclusion is obvious. It's always a good idea to recalculate costs, because it may turn out that a tailor-made system is cheaper.
The last aspect, which unfortunately I have encountered many times. The situation is as follows: looking for a ready-made system, we find a solution that fits our needs well. The software supplier shows us a system that seems perfect for us. Implementation follows. And this is where the first difficulties arise. It looks as if the company implementing the tool is not thoroughly familiar with its capabilities. After long battles, however, the implementation comes to fruition. And here the problem begins.
It turns out that the system is poorly configured, the supplier has problems with its development and further adaptation to our needs. So we look for other support, a competing supplier, try to hire specialists directly. But it's all to no avail. The system we have chosen is so unknown on the Polish market that we have no chance of finding a suitable partner for its development and maintenance. So before we decide to implement a ready-made system, it's worth verifying whether there are specialists in its field in the market. It's better to write a dedicated system with a trusted partner than to trash a poorly implemented off-the-shelf solution that we can't develop. And the latter scenario is quite popular in the market, although no one tends to brag about it.
As you can see, the road to choosing between off-the-shelf and tailor-made systems is a complicated and bumpy one in IT. I hope the above five signposts will help, navigate this road much more confidently and efficiently. Finally, one additional piece of advice.
In my opinion, the best approach is to have trusted partners - IT companies that specialize in integrating off-the-shelf solutions and building applications "from scratch." Those that are not afraid to say "we don't know how to do that, so we can't help". Or even "just this ready-made solution won't work in your case". Sometimes it's worth giving it a chance and letting the IT vendor become our advisor and see how hard they will try not to disappoint our trust.