Sometimes, we encounter a potential client who is either considering building their own online registration and business management system or already in the construction process. From very small family-owned clubs and non-profits to enormous federations or associations, the reasons behind going down the custom-built road circle back to two issues: the inability of current software options to satisfy their specific needs and the cost of a platform in general.
Despite those valid concerns, building your own software is rarely the best solution. The allure of ownership and 100 percent adherence to their vision are often what’s sold to potential buyers; however, what vendors won’t tell you is that, once all the costs are accounted for, developing your own solution rarely justifies the tepid return on such a huge investment.
Understanding Your Software Needs with an SRD
Every project has three key elements that determine the quality: scope, time, and cost. If you’re considering custom building because there isn’t a solution that meets all your requirements, you also need to consider the scope of the project and the cost associated with getting it up and running.
Assuming you’ve already decided on your software "must haves" and your "nice to haves", the next step in the custom-building process is transforming those into a Systems Requirement Document (SRD). It’s an extremely detailed document that, once completed, gives you a better chance of staying on time and on budget – something that the clear majority of projects fail to do. Bigger organizations can outsource the SRD writing to a consulting firm. However, the meat of the content still needs to be decided upon.
Use Buyer’s Guides and Make Your Checklist
If you’re not totally set on those needs and wants, or if you’re struggling with how to turn those into an official document, a good place to start is a buyer’s guide. Reading at least one can give you valuable insight into exactly which features are essentials in a software solution. Then, create a checklist using that information and you’ll have a clear, concise picture of what your ideal software should look like.
Discover Available Options Through Free Trials
When you’re scouring the market for already-built registration and management solutions, remember that some vendors might be able to customize their product to better suit your needs, often at little to no cost to you. Working with developers of an existing piece of software who build using Agile methodology instead of the more traditional Waterfall approach gives you the opportunity to get value through incremental improvements over time. Using the API of software that’s already on the market can also reduce the cost your organization will incur.
Calculating Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
There’s no doubt about it, building your own custom software solution can be very expensive. It’s not just building the final product either – once you have that platform delivered, you still have costs associated with things like maintenance, bug fixes, implementation, training and, perhaps most of all, upgrades that keep up with the blistering pace of global software development.
Here is a list of just some of the questions that go into calculating a custom-built software’s TCO:
- Are there any internal resources that will be involved in the planning, management and implementation stages of a custom software project (IT professionals, project managers, etc.)? Will any outside consultants be brought in as well?
- Will a software development company be hired in the pre-sales stage to map out processes, design a solution and provide you with an accurate quote for the entire project? Will a company be paid a retainer to get started?
- What hardware costs (rack space, servers, etc.) need to be factored in? Will you host your solution at your offices or externally? Keep in mind that either side of that latter question will generate expenses.
- If you want to process credit cards, what is the cost of security options that will prevent data loss or intrusion? What about PCI compliance (this requires regular maintenance).
- What kind of Disaster Recovery Plan does your organization need? You’ll need to settle on a Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and a Recovery Point Objective (RPO) to make this decision.
- What resources and costs are associated with three years of technical support and maintenance after the custom build is complete? What internal and/or external resources will be used in this process?
- What kind of training needs to be provided for existing staff members to learn the software? What about new hires?
How Long is a Custom Build?
Depending on your project scope and how much you are willing to spend, it could be a long time before you see an ROI on a custom-built software investment. Months or even years may pass until you have something that can satisfy your short-term needs and wants, not to mention a product that is more fleshed out and able to keep up with your organization’s requirements farther into the future.
In addition, once the software is ready to implement, you’ll have to train your staff and possibly your clients to use it. We mentioned it in the previous section but, as with technical delays, this part of the process may take a decent amount of time to complete. The good news is that most out-of-the-box solutions can give you an accurate estimate as to how long it should take to get your organization up and running on their software (spoiler alert: it’s never years).
Be Thorough and Get the Information You Need
In addition to scope, cost and time, here are a few other issues you should look out for:
- What assurances and guarantees are you receiving in terms of timeline and quality?
- Is the software’s backend code being built to the latest industry standards?
- Once you have taken delivery of the product, who will oversee Quality Assurance? How will bug fixes be handled?
- During the custom-software build, do you pay an hourly rate or will you receive a bank of hours? Keep in mind that no software company can give you an estimate of how many hours it will take to fix a future bug since not all bugs are created equal. Bugs are unavoidable – even huge companies like Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce have fixes that are done regularly.
- What type of support and training will you receive? If you use an external company, what are their hours and SLA’s around support?
At the end of the day, no system will be an absolutely perfect solution. That being said, if the facets of your business you’re looking to optimize with software aren’t vital to the mission of your enterprise, then consider investing in an existing solution that meets as many of your needs as possible. It will lighten the load on your budget and reduce the time spent trying to implement a digital solution that doesn’t evolve over time.
Take Amila as an example. Technically speaking, we are in the business of software development, so could we build marketing and sales software ourselves? Yes. However, we aren’t going to develop custom software when we can use an already-developed solution for a fraction of the cost and time spent on the project. It allows us to stay focused on the core of our business and deliver quality results to our client base.