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Build? Buy? Neither?

Editor's Note: Recently, I have been pulled in to help on some RFP responses for long-term projects at some rather large institutions. This work has given me a newfound appreciation for the difficult decisions facing IT departments tasked with implementing systems that impact the entire organization. Is it better to implement an "off the rack" solution that will be fully supported by a 3rd party vendor, develop a highly customized solution in-house, or try to get the best of both worlds by customizing a packaged solution? While there may be no perfectly "right" answer, the article below by my colleague Austen Slattery provides some excellent food for thought. 

Every day, from the very moment we wake up, we all face a basic choice: take action or remain in place. This is as true in our personal lives as it is in our professional lives. And since my colleagues and I are involved in the sales process, it’s a common topic of discussion while on coffee break.

There are two particularly difficult situations a software salesperson encounters: a customer using an ‘in-house, custom-built solution’ and a customer who is satisfied with the status quo. Both situations are as challenging — or more challenging — than competing against another software solution. At least until some compelling event illustrates the limitations of “the way we’ve always done things.”

The Big Choice: Build versus Buy

By definition, a homegrown, in-house built system was created to solve a specific problem; usually it is one that no standard off-the-rack solution could address at the time. It may have been the pet project of some IT manager eager to address the unique needs of the enterprise and its employees. In any case, there is one major wildcard in employing such a solution: the fickle future.

It’s the unexpected things that cause trouble: the sudden retirement or resignation of the in-house expert(s) who built and maintained the system. The merger or acquisition that abruptly changes the nature and volume of work the system needs to handle. Or a software update that causes problems with the integration and renders the system inadequate to the task at hand. (Remember the organizations unable to migrate an in-house solution away from Windows 7? XP? NT?) These are the stories my colleagues and I discuss, with a strange combination of excitement and dread.

Faced with such a conundrum, a business can either sink more time and money into updating their custom software or look for a vendor solution that will meet their needs. In other words, build *again* or buy from a provider that can address their ever-changing requirements. No one expected the arrival of a global pandemic, for example, which dramatically altered the way we work. Certainly not John, Sally, and the other folks in charge of maintaining your internally developed systems.

That’s not their fault. But in business, like theater, “the show must go on.” Replacing or updating an in-house developed system may bruise some egos or hurt more feelings than migrating from one software vendor’s solution to another one would. Software vendors and their employees don’t like losing an RFP or a sales opportunity, but whether a customer decides to buy, build, or even postpone their decision, they don’t take it personally. Internal IT personnel sometimes do.

It is what it was, and it always will be

There are few words more discouraging to a salesperson than “good enough.” As in, “I know the solution we’re using now isn’t great, but it’s good enough.”

Accepting the status quo usually seems like the easiest thing to do. An existing solution may have some recognized problems or weaknesses, but if it is mostly stable and functioning, it feels safe to leave things as they are. After all, any current solution represents an investment made in the past. No one wants to get rid of an asset until it has yielded the maximum amount of benefits.

But to answer the words “good enough,” let me offer two of my own: “opportunity cost.”

In a ‘do nothing’ scenario, there are usually problems that are not being addressed. Employees get less work done than they would with better technology support. Fewer products and services get produced, delivered, and sold than they would if more efficient processes were in place. Older servers, printers, equipment, and other assets are extended beyond their useful lives and become a net drag on the bottom line. Somewhere between “change for change’s sake” and “status quo forever” lies the sweet spot where costs and benefits are optimized.

Different stories, same ending

When it comes to print management, it doesn’t matter whether a customer has a home-built solution or has decided to simply “live with” the print functionality inherent to the operating system. In the end, nearly all organizations end up implementing a full-featured output management solution. Why? They realize their IT and help desk staff have more important issues to deal with than track down missing print jobs, reboot print servers, and update drivers across the network landscape. And the bigger the network and more employees they have, the greater the need for reliable print solutions.

Most organizations treat network printing like a utility. Turn the faucet and you expect water to come out. Flip a switch, you expect the lights to go on… every single time. If you add a chandelier or change the washing machine, you don’t need to fundamentally change your wiring or plumbing. Just plug the new items in, and they work. Simple, scalable, and stable as a rock.

The same goes for LRS software. Our solutions provide reliable delivery of your critical documents and integrate seamlessly with whatever applications you use to run your business. And if troubles should arise, we have a global team of experts with literally centuries of accumulated experience who are there to help you overcome your challenges.

Build, buy, or do nothing? When it comes to output management, the answer is easy. And when considering which vendor to rely on, the answer is easier still. So don’t hesitate to contact us when the need arises!