10 October 2022
Buy or build a web application?
We usually build custom solutions.
With new customers I often get the question "shouldn't we choose a ready-made platform?"
We usually build custom solutions. With new customers I often get the question "shouldn't we choose a ready-made platform?"
The answer to this question is not the same for every customer and situation.
Today there are tons of platforms on the market that can make sense for many companies. However, those platforms are not always the solution for the unique problems that some companies have to deal with.
There are many factors that make it impossible to give a single, unambiguous answer to the question “buy or build?”. I will list and explain advantages and disadvantages of both choices, which hopefully can help you make the right choice.
I would like to mention that the term SaaS is generally used for ready-made platforms, the meaning of the abbreviation stands for "Software as a Service" where you get a ready-to-use solution/application for a monthly or annual payment. amount.
Start-ups, have a solution quickly, gain experience
A new company or department often wants to be able to get started quickly with their platform. That is a very good attitude because time-to-market is usually more important than investing time in a platform and stopping a start-up business.
In addition to being able to get started quickly, you often do not yet know exactly what you want or need. Also, the activity is often new and you can't quite predict what the emphasis should be on for your company and your customers.
Suppose you need relationship management and sales follow-up, then you could opt for a SaaS CRM system (Hubspot, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Teamleader, Odoo, ...). You can get started right away and the best practices of a solid CRM operation are already built into the system.
Once you have been working with it for a while, with your own business and your own customers, you will start to feel which functions you find useful, which you miss and which are superfluous. Also what limitations the system has and will always have. That is an experience that you cannot gain by thinking about it, but only by using it effectively in practice.
If it turns out that the system works well, can handle your business model, is efficient and secure, does not miss any crucial functions or links and is not excessively expensive, then it is here to stay and there is no need to have a tailor-made solution develop. If you do run into some shortcomings or if you find that you cannot make a difference with your competitors, you can consider having a specific platform built with the experience you have gained.
Another example is a website that often initially serves as an information carrier to tell a customer or potential customer a little more about your activities and your achievements. Today there are very good and fast solutions to set up a simple website, just think of Squarespace, Wix, Weebly. In addition to these Cloud platforms, there are also more advanced and modular CMS systems such as Wordpress and Drupal.
Just like with the example of the CRM system, you have to assess with the website platforms whether it is a good choice for your situation. Questions that can be asked are:
Does the appearance correspond to who you are as a company, do you have to make graphic concessions?
Is it a secure platform, are there any statistics available on hacking?
Is it flexible and expandable to functionalities?
Is it useful to add or modify content?
Are there many functionalities in it that you don't need and make it unnecessarily complicated or slow?
Do you need links or integrations and are they possible?
Does the system work efficiently for both the administrator and the visitor?
Can you position yourself uniquely compared to your competitors?
There are very complete SaaS webshop platforms available, just think of Shopify, Magento (Adobe Commerce), Lightspeed. Here too the rule is if you are looking for a relatively standard webshop system that is quickly set up, then the mentioned systems are a very good solution.
If you already have an ERP system and/or PIM in which a lot of product data, prices, stocks, customer data, etc. are available, then the choice to place a complete ecommerce platform for this is often not the best choice. You quickly get into a complex setup to synchronize data between the different systems and never really get into a stable situation.
In addition to synchronization challenges, you also want to make the experience to your customer that little bit more unique than offering a filterable grid of products. I am thinking, for example, of a configurator (choice aid) to give a customer personal online guidance/advice to choose your product(s) or services.
Cost is always an important parameter. With a SaaS platform you usually have a low monthly cost and you have an immediate return because you can start using the application immediately from day 1.
With a custom solution you have an initial investment that you can only start using after a while. In the slightly longer term, costs can be saved if it would provide higher efficiency and if the license cost of a SaaS platform increases due to long use, many users or paying extension modules.
Maintenance and control
With a SaaS platform you don't have to worry about maintenance, it is arranged for you and is baked into the monthly costs. A disadvantage of this is that you have no further influence on errors in the system, when updates will be performed or when breakdowns occur. You have to undergo that and the builder of the platform decides what and when to do something or not.
With a custom solution, maintenance and errors (bugs) must be solved and performed by your web agency. You conclude an agreement for this or you pay ad hoc. You can then plan yourself when interruptions or down-times can best be carried out for you as a company.
Coherence and communication with other systems
Because there are so many SaaS solutions, it is even more important than before that a good connection and communication is possible between the different tools you use. If you start with a new SaaS platform, you must carefully map out to what extent this new platform should work together with any other platforms that you already use.
A custom platform can usually better fit in and connect with other platforms because you can then provide a certain logic, rights or transformation for different specific scenarios.
Customizability and scalability
With most SaaS solutions you can't adjust a lot or have it adapted to your specific needs. The platform must be universally deployable for the largest possible group of customers. Also, after being a subscriber for a while, you usually get “free” new features added to the platform (whether you need them or not).
On the other hand, you can tailor a custom solution completely to the needs you have today, but also those of tomorrow if they change.
Custom platform: advantages
Highly customizable to your specific needs
Solving your unique problem
Easy to integrate with other tools
The development rights are yours, the data is yours
You have control over the availability of the platform
You are not dependent on others
You can create a unique difference or advantage over your competitors
Custom platform: disadvantages
Expensive to start
Tempting to incur more costs than necessary for adjustments/extensions
SaaS platform: advantages
Started up quickly
Low cost to start
No worries about maintenance
SaaS platform: disadvantages
- Complete dependence on the builder of the platform
- You're not sure it really solves your problem
- Costs can be very high in the long run for many users/customers
- Chances are that your competitors also work with the same platform, you don't really have an advantage in that area
We are happy to see what challenge you are facing and what is the best solution for your situation!
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