The Software Development Dilemma

Business owners all have strategic needs for software. But should you build it, or should you buy it?

Lines of code across a black screen


--The main benefits of building your own software are that it helps with specific demands, can be fully tailored and gives a competitive advantage. The benefits of buying a solution mainly center on cost, ease and quick maintenance and support.


Entrepreneurs and business owners often identify an area where technology or software could offer customers a better experience or simply provide better efficiency. The next step is to buy commercial "off-the-shelf" software or build a custom solution.

As with most things in life, there are positives and negatives to both depending on your exact needs and budget. However, going down the wrong path might well be a costly business mistake, so it's vital at the early exploration stage to weigh all your options and make an informed decision.

First, you need to know the problem you're trying to solve in detail. What are the unique challenges faced by your company or industry, as well as those common to most businesses? If you operate in a popular line of business, there are likely pre-made software programs available. However, building custom software may be necessary if you work in a specialized or emerging field.

Second, you need to work within your budget. Building in-house software can be very expensive. Consider the initial development costs, as well as annual maintenance and hosting expenses. In contrast, pre-made software solutions typically involve a one-time, annual or monthly fee that covers support, maintenance and hosting, which makes it more affordable but requires continuing investment.

Finally, the timeline and rollout plan is vital to get right. Assess how urgently you require the software. Developing a software program from scratch can take months or even years, depending on its complexity. If time is of the essence, purchasing a pre-made solution that can be up and running within minutes may be the more favorable choice.

Determining the value of building software in-house versus purchasing an external Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform can be daunting. While some consultants argue that building your own software is now easier than ever, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential issues that come with creating custom software, such as maintenance and system failure.

Digital transformation decisions often revolve around the trade-off between speed to market and cost savings. This delicate balance can significantly differ across industries. Businesses and brands should consider factors such as control, monetary costs, maintenance, opportunity cost and time to value to help evaluate which option is best for them.

See also: 6 Keys to Successful CRM Implementation



Building your own software grants complete control over the SaaS platform. However, this also means you're responsible for every detail -- from design choices to technical specifications.


Choosing a pre-made SaaS platform requires relinquishing some control but offers convenience and ease. You can use off-the-shelf products as a base but some providers also offer customizations, meaning if you need to solve a specific need the partner will build on top of the core product a new user interface or payment gateway that is required. But purchasing technology or existing products from a SaaS company means you will not have control over the product road map.



If you're looking for a fast and budget-friendly solution, building from scratch isn't the way to go. In-house software can rack up hefty expenses such as development costs, continuing maintenance, support, upgrades, hosting fees and system repairs. A whopping one-sixth of IT projects overrun their budgets by 200%. So, if you're set on building your own thing, be aware of the hidden costs you can pick up during the discovery, designing, testing and implementation of your platform.


With a pre-made SaaS platform, you pay a subscription fee, which covers the costs of development and maintenance. As SaaS vendors serve a large customer base, they can offer their solutions at a fraction of the cost required to support a custom-built application.

Maintenance and Support


If you have a substantial budget, you can afford to maintain the software you build internally. However, consider the maintenance costs, such as bug fixes, user profile setup, user training, upgrades and compliance with industry standards. Increased user demand may require additional bandwidth and staff.


If the prospect of maintenance seems daunting, purchasing a pre-made SaaS platform is the preferable option. Your subscription fee includes all maintenance services, and you benefit from a dedicated support team.

Opportunity Cost


Opportunity cost plays a significant role in budgetary considerations. Allocating funds to building a highly specialized app may limit resources available for other business opportunities that may arise.


By choosing a SaaS solution, you can allocate more resources and time to other sectors of your business.

See also: The Cost of Still Using Spreadsheets

Time to Value


Consider your goals and how quickly you must achieve them through new software. Building a software program internally can take over a year. Assess whether you can afford to wait that long.


Purchasing a SaaS platform provides immediate access to a complete program, allowing you to connect your goals to actions quickly.

Ultimately, decision-makers need to weigh both options, and the choice will differ across a variety of factors. There is no right or wrong answer.

The main benefits of building your own software are that it helps with specific demands, can be fully tailored and gives a competitive advantage. The benefits of buying a solution mainly center on cost, ease and quick maintenance and support.

Read More