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12/28/2019 12:55:53 PM
Build vs buying mobile app code
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App Developer Magazine
Build vs buying mobile app code


Build vs buying mobile app code

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Robert Castles Robert Castles

When you’re looking to implement a business application, how do you decide which approach to take? It seems that you have two options: to custom build or buy an off-the-shelf app software solution.

In the business world, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the end customer is still a human being. Consumer technology has spoiled us, in a good way, and now users are demanding the same level of customer experience and problem-solving from business applications as they get from the technologies ubiquitous in their day-to-day personal lives. This leaves companies on the hook to deliver an “app for that” in every area of their business.

But while the end goals of delivering a better user experience, streamlining operations, increasing security and applying analytics are clear, the means to those ends are not. Organizations from SMBs to enterprises struggle with the question of whether to build or buy a solution. At first glance, it may seem that off-the-shelf software is the easiest and best choice, but the reality is that companies will always have some business processes and data sources that are unique to themselves. 

So, when you’re looking to implement a business application, how do you decide which approach to take. It seems that you have two options: to custom build or to buy an off-the-shelf software solution. How do you know which option is best? It’s a simple question with a complicated answer because multiple factors usually go into a stakeholder’s evaluation.

But by asking the right questions and properly evaluating your company’s long-term needs, you can confidently make the right choice. And by augmenting your technology stack to include low-code workflow automation, which allows users to configure applications without having to code, you can substantially improve the odds of success, regardless. The following are some areas to consider when investing in business technology.  

Understand the total cost of investment

Companies sometimes invest in software without thinking about its future. They make the mistake of building or buying for today without defining who will be responsible for the upkeep three years from now.

If creating a custom application, determine who will make code changes and whether keeping those resources around perpetually is feasible. Employees leave or change jobs within companies, so you want to ensure knowledge that comes with building an application isn’t lost. Understand how sticky the solution will be once implemented – will replacing it after it’s outdated be complicated and expensive?

Conversely, if you’re buying point solution software, figure out how much configuration is required and how complex the work. Who will configure it and how long will it take? Is customization required? Business changes will necessitate updates or upgrades at some point – whether it’s in three months, nine months or five years, so you’ll want to consider who will be responsible and whether the work will stay in-house or be outsourced.

Although it’s critical to understand what it means to own a software product and put it into production, most customers fail to consider scalability, agility, ongoing maintenance and support. If that’s you, it’s important to change your mindset because application ownership continues after the initial cost. It includes maintaining and updating it regularly, just like you would to your company website. 

Treat your application like a living, breathing, evolving entity

Often, when a company builds its own application, it comes away with specific yet complex software with intricacies few others can understand. Over time, knowledge is lost as those developers change positions or leave the company. And while someone else could make revisions, those modifications are often complex and multiply over time. 

Think, for example, of a building that’s undergone multiple renovations and extensions over time. Eventually, the cost to raze and rebuild it to current specifications could be less than upkeeping a cobbled-together structure. Therefore, without the technical skillset in-house to treat the resulting software product as a living, breathing, evolving entity, a custom application is frequently the wrong choice.

However, when purchasing a point solution that’s presumably 80 percent ready and 20 percent customizable, you could have some surprises in store. Functionality might not be supported for specific uses cases; customization could be difficult and specialized resources at a reasonable cost could be scarce. In short, it’s nearly impossible to know what you’ve invested in until you’ve used the technology for a while.

Why investing in workflow automation technology pays off

A low-code platform that adapts with your evolving needs can fill the gaps, whether you build or buy. Buying a business application may give you the lion’s share of what you need in a fraction of the time to build, but often compromises requirements to do so. Whereas, custom-built applications often come with a lengthy software development lifecycle and extensive quality assurance and development time, not to mention greater project risk. 

For example, a large American health insurance company was developing a custom software solution to coordinate a long list of processes across disparate – and often legacy – technologies. The objective was to streamline customer onboarding to better serve a high-growth marketplace benefitting from the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But, the project was drastically behind schedule, and the company risked not being ready for the pending open enrollment deadline.

So, the company chose a low-code platform that bypassed the need for IT developers to write new code and integrated various technologies, workflows and internal web services in a customer onboarding solution. The application helped the company collect, validate and clean incoming customer data – 75 percent of which was inaccurate or incomplete – to ensure systems’ interoperability with limited manual intervention. The application, which was implemented in less than three months, resulted in a 50 percent reduction in customer onboarding time, a steady stream of new clients and improved relations with insurance brokers and customers alike.

Just say no to coding and choose configuration instead

A low-code platform, which liberates you from coding, works with the build or buy scenario. Solutions configured with a robust workflow automation product deliver companies what they need faster than custom development or customization of an off-the-shelf point solution. Plus, a solution built on a low-code platform is much easier and more cost-effective to update and maintain. The key is to choose software that allows you to configure – not code – for automation success, whether you plan to build from scratch or customize your own 20 percent.

When investing in workflow automation technology, as with any other software, consider the total cost of ownership and think about who will support it in the future. If you choose a solution too quickly or after simply seeing a slick demonstration, you’re at risk of ending up with ill-fitting software that fails to meet your needs.

During my 20-plus years in this industry, I’ve seen many companies custom-code an application, only to find out it often fails to produce the short- or long-term results they wanted. However, those choosing an off-the-shelf application that’s augmented by a low-code platform get the results they’re looking for. And when there’s no available off-the-shelf application to meet a company’s specialized use case, a workflow automation platform offers the fastest, and often least costly, way to build.

Software systems – applications included – have a habit of sticking around and being used for quite some time, so you want to make sure yours can change, grow and evolve right along with your business. 

This content is made possible by a guest author, or sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of App Developer Magazine's editorial staff.

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