By Steve Carter, co-founder of Candidate.Guru.
Every new project needs a technological solution to support it. If you are lucky, the solution will turn out to be something you already have from a previous project.
This is not always the case. For many new projects, you will find yourself in need of new technology -- software and sometimes even hardware. That leaves you with two choices: Should you build or buy? The answer, like so much else in life, depends on the circumstances.
Here are some factors to consider before making the big decision.
1. Do you actually need a new solution at all? It might be that a very simple tweak on existing technology, or you could find a software to do it. You might even find a feature buried in something you already had that does exactly what you need.
2. How unique are your needs? If what you are doing is fairly standard, and similar to something a lot of other companies do, then you can probably get the software you need off the shelf. If you need to do something that's extremely rare, then it might not be available, or it might be expensive.
3. Do you have a good team? Do you have the people in-house or are you going to have to contract out? If the latter, then finding a good contractor can end up taking far longer than just buying and tailoring an off-the-shelf package.
4. Are you building software to facilitate the way you do things? If so, are you doing things in a good way or just the way they have always been done? When looking at a new software solution, it is also a good time to go over the procedures that will be used with the software and see if they can be made more intuitive or efficient.
5. How much does it cost? If you contract out the build, then you can do a direct cost comparison. If your in-house coder is doing it, it can be more complicated. Are you going to have to pay them overtime? Are other projects going to be delayed? Even if you are already paying the programmer full time, there are still inherent costs. Also, consider maintenance and testing. If you buy something off the shelf, it has already been tested and those costs are spread out amongst the customers.
6. How urgently do you need it? Obviously, it is much faster to order a software package from another company that has already been developed and tested, and this might make up for some compromises in design.
One way to go about it is to look at the available packages and assign fit scores -- 100 percent is all requirements are met, although it's rare to get above 90 percent or 80 percent. If you can't find a commercial product that scores more than 60 percent, then you probably want to build. Alternatively, it might be cheaper to buy two packages, or take the package and then add the functionality you need.
If you have your own team, it can be very tempting to lean towards building software from scratch. However, a lot of the time companies that do that are reinventing the wheel when they could be using their talent to solve more specific problems.
Ultimately, the decision whether to build your own software or buy a commercially-produced package needs to be made rationally, taking into account the talent you have on hand, the software that is available off-the-shelf, and your company's specific needs. This is not something another company can do for you, although a contractor can sometimes help. Overall, the best answer is to sit down with your IT team and go through things properly to work out what the best route is.
Steve Carter is the co-founder of Candidate.Guru, an HR tech startup that recently acquired Elevated Careers from prominent dating site eHarmony.