The Tower Tech Tango: To Build or To Buy Software?
During our frequent conversations with CxOs, digitalization experts, and ICT teams within the leading tower companies and telecom infrastructure organizations, a recurring point of discussion around digitalization tools is answering the universal question of Build Versus Buy. We put ourselves in the shoes of Rachel, a (fictional) CIO at one of the leading (fictional) tower companies to try and do a deep-dive analysis of this dilemma. – Editor's note.
Hello, I am Rachel, and I am in charge of creating a business case for my company’s CEO regarding buying an existing software solution for managing our site portfolio or developing it in-house.
With numerous options available on the market, I need to determine whether we should go for an off-the-shelf software application or consider building a fully customized solution ourselves. Before proceeding with vendor evaluation, I need to critically examine our specific business needs. I am eager to explore the benefits and drawbacks of each option to make the best decision for our company.
Let me clearly understand the difference between - Build Versus Buy.
As I consider the best approach for our company, I find it essential to define the key distinctions between building and buying software solutions. Building software involves developing a solution tailored to our needs, granting us the flexibility to customize it according to our business requirements at any time.
Traditionally, building solutions would have required substantial IT and development resources for deployment. However, with the emergence of low-code/no-code technology and improved vendor support, the DIY approach has become more accessible, and these solutions can be easily integrated into various lines of business.
On the other hand, buying software entails acquiring a ready-to-use, purpose-built solution "out-of-the-box." These solutions are specifically designed by vendors to address defined problems and cater to end-users like us. The advantage of such solutions is that they require no additional coding after purchase and are typically easy to adopt. Additionally, they may have configuration options for me to tweak certain capabilities to suit our requirements.
One common type of such software is point solutions, which focus on improving specific functions within our business. While they can be quickly implemented by our team, they might not seamlessly integrate with our existing IT landscape. It's important to note that buying these types of point solutions may cater to specific needs but might not fully align with our broader processes, nor will they provide end-to-end functionality.
On the other hand, the other type of solution that I can find on the market is end-to-end site management platforms. These span the entire lifecycle of our telecom infrastructure and provide capabilities for all our departments to digitalize their work through workflow automation. Moreover, they offer the possibility to tweak the platform for better product integration.
Now that I have a clearer understanding of the differences between building and buying software solutions, I can proceed to evaluate our business needs and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each option to make an informed decision for our company's future.
What should I consider when deciding to buy software?
When it comes to finding a quick solution for pressing business problems, online point solutions really catch my attention. They offer an attractive option since they don't require hardware procurement or IT system maintenance. The best part is that they are easy to deploy and ready to use right out of the box. These prebuilt solutions come with a set of features that we can immediately implement to improve various aspects of our operations, such as customer support, field operations, contract management, and project management. And the icing on the cake is that we don't have to worry about scaling, software upgrades, or security, as the service provider handles all of that for us.
For businesses with static and generic data and process needs, and who don't mind a one-size-fits-all approach, this could be the perfect fit. I can see why many companies out there opt for this type of solution.
However, one downside of point solutions is their lack of customizability. They are designed to target common pain points across all businesses, like CRM. So, if we're looking for a custom software solution that goes beyond typical mainstream operations, such as something to efficiently support internal compliance activities, we might end up feeling frustrated as finding an out-of-the-box solution for that could be challenging.
Additionally, if we're looking to streamline and automate existing processes or need a solution that can adapt to changing business or customer requirements over time, a point solution may not be the best choice. These prebuilt solutions come as-is, and making significant customizations or implementing future updates might not be feasible.
Another concern is that companies relying solely on stand-alone point solutions often end up deploying multiple systems from different vendors. Managing these disparate applications and tools can become complex, leading to data silos that hinder interdepartmental collaboration. Integrating these systems, if possible, would require understanding their various data structures, business rules, and using application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect them. This could create additional challenges for our team.
Apart from point solutions, there are companies that offer integrated, end-to-end, enterprise solutions which are invaluable in today's complex business landscape. These comprehensive platforms are meticulously crafted to encompass a wide range of functionalities, and some are purpose-built for our industry. By integrating these diverse components into a single, cohesive system, I think my organization can streamline its operations and enhance overall efficiency.
I am happy to note that these solutions enable seamless data flow across various departments, eliminating silos and fostering collaboration. This holistic approach will empower my organization to gain a 360-degree view of overall processes, enabling more informed decision-making and precise resource allocation.
Additionally, with all critical functionalities consolidated under one roof, I think such a solution can reduce the need for multiple disjointed tools, resulting in cost savings and a more straightforward user experience. Ultimately, the adoption of integrated, end-to-end solutions paves the way for sustained growth, improved customer satisfaction, and a competitive edge in the market for my organization.
Considering all these factors, I'll need to weigh the pros and cons carefully to determine whether a point solution or a comprehensive integrated solution aligns with our immediate needs and long-term goals.
What should I consider when deciding to build software?
When it comes to building a software solution in-house, I understand that it requires significant time and effort to make it truly valuable for our business. Building software that aligns with our specific goals and integrates existing solutions may involve collaboration with other stakeholders within the company. In some cases, we might need the expertise of IT professionals or coders to bring the solution to life.
If we're facing disruptions in our normal operations and urgently need a bridge solution for a limited number of affected systems, opting for a solution built in-house might not be the most practical choice. These solutions aren't off-the-shelf solutions; they require careful consideration to determine whether immediate adoption is necessary or if focusing on a greater long-term business impact is the better approach.
Undoubtedly, a software application built by our own in-house team can offer a powerful platform to enhance our business operations, but we need to weigh the effort and cost involved against the potential rewards.
On the other hand, I've come across a common misconception about modern business software development platforms. Many believe that programming skills are a prerequisite to using these platforms effectively. However, I've discovered that no-code platforms, like Quickbase, allow us to build and maintain our own problem-solving solutions with just basic spreadsheet skills and our existing knowledge of data and processes.
With most of the code being generated automatically through point-and-click actions and visual cues, it becomes much more accessible to create and deploy custom solutions without relying heavily on our busy IT department. Additionally, building our own software using such platforms turns out to be more flexible compared to prepackaged point solutions. However, enterprise site management platforms offer the joint benefits of commercial, off-the-shelf platforms that support customization through configuration.
Although building our own software may require an initial time investment to map out our processes and plan the software development, the long-term benefits are significant. We can achieve these same benefits through enterprise site management platforms. This way, we gain complete control over a tool that is fully customized to our unique processes, and it can adapt alongside our business as our needs evolve over time. But at the same time, we get the additional benefits of commercial tools such as scalability and support.
But how do I determine whether I need to build or buy?
As I consider whether to develop or purchase software for our business, I understand that this decision should be tailored to our unique organizational composition and specific needs. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, so careful evaluation is essential as recommended by Finextra’s article about a not one-size-fits-all for fintech. I need to consider some key factors to help guide our organization’s decision-making process:
Scope of software
I need to assess how many stakeholders will interact with the new software application. Is it intended for a limited number of internal users and processes? Or does the solution require input from multiple data sources and access for external users? I will need to consider the ramifications of data security and compliance when setting up the access mechanisms for the software.
Need for customization and flexibility
It’s essential to determine if the issue my organization intends to solve is isolated to one function or if it’s part of broader company inefficiencies. If the problem is specific and isolated, purchasing point solution software could provide a quick and easy fix. On the other hand, if we anticipate integrating multiple functions into one program or foresee the need to expand our solution over time, building custom software becomes a more viable option. What if I could find a commercial software that enables me to buy off the shelf and still provides configuration capabilities to tweak it according to my requirements?
Our budget and available resources play a crucial role in this decision. We must consider the pricing differences between custom-built and commercial solutions, while taking into account the functionality we require. Sometimes, more expensive and resource-intensive solutions may not be cost-effective based on our specific business case, potentially minimizing their overall value to our company.
Core competency and resources
In addition to cost, I need to think about the investment from our organization in terms of resources and their core skill set. Do we have the required experts with time and expertise to develop a brand new software platform or would it be better to take advantage of an existing turnkey product that can meet our needs so that we can focus on our primary business?
As I weigh these factors and thoroughly evaluate our requirements, I'll be better equipped to make an informed decision that aligns with our business goals and ensures an optimal fit for our unique needs.
But the question remains…
Now that I've learned about the benefits and drawbacks of both buying software and building custom solutions, and considered the relevant factors, the big question remains: What should I choose?
Tarantula is here to understand your unique requirements and configure Red Cube – our purpose-built telecom site lifecycle management solution - to automate your unique business processes.