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Build or Buy? Or Both?

Often when we are confronted with a systems decision in our business, we are overwhelmed by choice.

So we hire a consultant to help us choose.

Think about the last time you hired a consultant. Any consultant. What will she do for you?

She will sit down with you, or arrange a call – possibly for a half day, a full day – to understand where you are now to determine what your needs are.

Needs are the fuel that drive the decision making process. Your consultant will work out what you need the system to do. When that is written down she will then talk about options with you and then you may sit down with her and some other folks and work out how that will fit best into your business.

At this point the sales process is already well underway – you’ve committed to buy something and potentially build it too. You have entered a decision making process, because systems conversations can be long and complicated and they take time and energy.

Perhaps it will go to a committee for a decision, more opinions, more needs will be brought to the table, the decision making process continues but often only those options that appeared at the start of the process will ever make it even that far.

Once a decision has been handed over to a committee there is an unwritten rule which says “You can have any of the options we discussed until now, but it’s going to be one of those options”. You’re already locked in.

How can you avoid this early lock-in?

Take a Step Back

So before you even get to a discussion with a consultant about what system is right for you and what your needs are – take a look around you.

Do you know what the systems you have already do for you? What is the piece of the puzzle that is missing from your systems already that adding a new one will solve?

Two important steps not to miss are:

  • Understanding your existing systems landscape
  • Determining what you want you it look like after you’ve added a new system

Your needs are valid – however if you focus only on the needs you will end up with more and more systems in your business. More systems, more cost, more complexity, less agility.

Weigh Your Options

Ultimately any consultant is going to guide you through the lens of their own experience. Systems move fast – the world of integration moves fast. Who is to say you need anything new when you don’t know what you have already?

Perhaps this is just a perceived need that comes from a certain department or a smooth sales pitch.

The more software we get in our businesses, the more we are at the whim of those that sell software – and those that sell software can sometimes put used-car salesman to shame.

Additionally for many years the promise of low-code or even no-code solutions make us think that we can indeed just buy a system and then configure it for ourselves. That is often a straight-up lie.

Because software is intangible, it can do anything. The promises can sometimes be intangible too and you will spend a lot of extra money working with an integrator or a developer to customise the software to make it do what you really want.

So rather than this being a case of “build or buy” it’s more a case of “buy and build” to get any solution into a state which will work in your particular business – in your particular context.

Take Ownership

It is therefore vitally important to understand and own your own systems landscape – to understand what you have now and how any new system will contribute to it.

Get yourself smart about your systems – your own needs – and your strategy for the future of your business – before you even consider going into a software selection process.