Buy, Build or Customize?

Have you bought a house recently?   It’s an interesting process.   Do you a buy a house that’s exactly what you want?   Do you buy a house that’s close to what you want and know that you have to put some work into it?  Or do you build a new house from scratch?    Each of these options have various cost, time, quality, and future considerations.    It’s very similar to choosing a path for a new software package.

When you’re looking into new CRM Software or ERP Software or Accounting Software, you have all these same options.  Granted, building new software from scratch is less of an option for most of us these days, but for real specific applications, it’s always in the mix.   If you’re a food manufacturer, and you’re looking for new ERP software, should you buy a package specific to the food industry?   Or, should you implement a generic package like Sage MAS 90 or MAS 200 and then “put some work into it” (eg customize it)?

The great thing about this debate is that everyone has an opinion about it.  And, usually it’s a strong opinion.   You’ll have the camp that is absolutely, positively against customizing of any kind.   Then you’ll have the group that is 100% against any specialized, vertical software.     Naturally, both sides can be right, depending on the circumstances.

The challenge is to evaluate each option with an open mind, with few preconceptions if possible, and to match the alternatives based on ability to meet requirements, cost constraints, timing, perceived quality, and the opportunity for ongoing support.   One thing for sure to know is that whatever you believe your requirements to be today, they will be different and evolve down the road.   The issue is not to absolutely, positively lean one way or another, but rather to evaluate the options clearly and objectively.    Do you need to be up and running in three months?   Then, customizing may not be the answer, because it will take longer to get your needs met.    Do you need really strong financial reporting?  Many vertical solutions, while great at meeting operational requirements, are sometimes found lacking in this area.    Are you expecting significant growth and changes as you move forward?   Then, the more flexible and integratable the solution the better.    How important is it to trust the software provider?  Many vertical software vendors are smaller and a potentially riskier move if you’re betting the future of the company with the software.    Off the shelf packages like SugarCRM or Sage MAS 90 have substantial companies behind them and hundreds of authorized consultants from which to choose.   While customizing these packages come with risks, the solid companies behind them may mitigate that risk.

There is no right answer, but there are right questions.   Make sure to ask them so you go down the path that works best for you, both for the present and the future.   And good luck with the house!   I’ll save my thoughts about home remodeling projects for another day….