As a software company in the music industry we often come across companies grappling with the dilemma of whether to build or buy software to solve a business issue. In other words – can I do it myself or should I buy a fit for purpose/ready-made solution (if such exists)?
With us, because of who we are, this is usually around IP and Licence management but the principle is the same for all areas of a business that require technology (e.g. you would never build Microsoft Office/Word for your company!). This was starkly illustrated to us recently in seeing a small company that had been working on software over the weekend for months on end only to find there was already something in the market that did more than he had achieved for a small monthly payment. Hats off to the guy, it was pretty good. But it cost him time and cash (and moreover it cost him heavy personal time outside of his day to day music job). It’s a emotional decision to make not to continue with a development project like that.
In some ways it was our ‘bad’ for not communicating our proposition well enough! A lesson in there for our marketing guys. However, back to the main point…..
Often some measure of a solution has been put together using no more than a sophisticated spreadsheet by one guy in the company who happened to know how to use it well or has put in the time to learn it. This often evolves with a life of it’s own over number of years into, for instance, a web site with and increasingly sophisticated back end (or in other words a webs-site with some element of clever stuff in the background that people never see but that makes it all work). The technology ‘need’ has been identified by the fact that there is a stitched together technical solution at the heart of a business critical process.
It’s an interesting dilemma that is very difficult to give a definitive right or wrong answer to. Where does a spreadsheet that totals up your monthly royalty payments office by office make the leap to a reporting system for your global offices? Software can look enticingly easy to build belying the challenges, risks and costs involved. Look at Dropbox – it just stores your files in folder right? the truth – their engineering team is 50 people and has developed over 5 years with $100’s of million of funding. Software development of successful systems takes certain skill, time, patience and some luck. People good at it and people who are good at managing the process live it day in and day out – practice makes perfect. You don’t get good on a piano without playing it, a lot. Simplicity is complex to engineer.
It’s not purely a cost decision but largely so. Would you pay 50k to custom build a solution when you can get 95% of what you need for 1k a month on Software as a Service platform? Should companies focus on their core expertise and seek external support for non-core stuff or should they learn on the job?
If you are interested in the maths then we’ll publish a simple example in the weeks to come. Basically what building your own means, it’ll take us a while to convert it from ‘techie’ to ‘accessible’! Hold your breath……