Angie Henson - January 25, 2024

Build vs. Buy: How to Choose the Right Framework

Understand your project constraints before making this important choice.

The build versus buy conundrum has long been a topic of discussion in industries ranging from automotive and aerospace to clothing and fashion, and software development is no exception. How do you decide whether to build your own software framework, use an off-the-shelf option, or purchase a customized product from a third-party? This decision can be a complicated one with long-term implications.

In this blog post, we describe the build vs. buy dilemma and break down the pros and cons of each option to make this important decision a little easier.

The build vs buy dilemma

Before you can decide whether to develop software to meet your specific business needs or opt for an off-the-shelf solution from a reputable vendor, you need to understand the big picture and identify conditions that can tip the balance. Key factors in the build vs. buy decision making process include:
● Timeline and time-to-market expectations
● Desired levels of customization and control
● Availability of third-party solutions
● Scalability and flexibility requirements
● Implementation and maintenance support
● Budget and resource constraints
The timeline factor impacts the build vs. buy decision in several ways. When time is of the essence, an existing third-party solution might be the logical choice, even if it does not include all the features on your wishlist. On the other hand, if nothing meeting your minimum requirements currently exists on the market, it can be more efficient to build a new solution from scratch.
The type and complexity of the software is also a key consideration. For example, a basic website or API with limited functionality and security features is much easier to develop than a new ERP platform or machine learning framework.

Benefits of building your own software  

The most obvious benefit of building your own software is the complete control you maintain over the design and scope of the finished product. This allows you to strategically build in features that can be scaled as your business evolves. Home grown software also creates a competitive advantage by providing unique features only your company can leverage. Additional benefits of developing your own framework include:
● Optimized integration with existing systems
● Enhanced security features
● Adaptability to industry changes
● Dedicated support and maintenance

Drawbacks of building your own framework

When you decide to develop and build your own framework, the first question to ask is who will do the building? Opportunity costs define the trade-off when talent is reallocated from other projects to work on new software, especially when it is outside their area of interest. These costs can detrimentally impact employee retention and satisfaction. Additional drawbacks include:
● Increased schedule and technical risks
● Longer development cycles
● Higher initial investment
● Increased maintenance expenses
Choosing the build option also causes you to miss out on economies of scale. SaaS solutions distributed between thousands of customers allow their hosts to save on operational, service, and security expenses. Building your own proprietary option also puts the onus on you to fix any defects or compatibility issues that arise, which can further drain resources and time.

Benefits of buying pre-built software

Speed is essential for rapidly evolving technology applications, and out of the box software solutions prioritize speed by shortening the development cycle. This benefit is complemented by the cost savings that come from eliminating development projects. As an additional bonus, any bugs, patches, or feature requests over the life of the product are the responsibility of the vendor. Some additional perks of pre-built frameworks are:
● Ease of use
● Strong community support
● Access to expertise and knowledge
● Using a tested and proven framework

Drawbacks of buying a software solution

In general, buying a software solution leaves you at the mercy of the supplier. Lacking a tailor-made alternative, you may need to settle for a platform that is good enough to meet your immediate needs, but not ideal for your specific industry or niche. In addition to this inherent lack of customization, additional drawbacks of buying include:
●Limited control over development
●Reduced flexibility and scalability
●Sharing of sensitive data with the vendor
●Unnecessary features
Vendor lock-in is another potential drawback of buying pre-built frameworks. If the company you choose to purchase from goes out of business or stops supporting the product you are using, it can create an operational dilemma.

Choosing the right software for your business

Reviewing third-party options to determine which one best meets your wish list is an important aspect of the build vs. buy decision. Once you have clearly defined your business needs and objectives, you can evaluate (and eliminate) options based on key factors such as:
● Technical specifications and compatibility with existing systems
● Cost and expected return on investment (ROI)
● Existing ecosystem and available support
● Security and compliance considerations

Decision-making process and best practices

Evaluating available software systematically allows you to identify options that make sense in both the short and long term. A team-based approach to evaluation gives you the benefit of cross-functional perspective and expertise to ensure you consider the needs of all stakeholders.

Brainstorming must-have vs. nice-to-have features, well-planned testing to put the software through its paces, and an evaluation of each finalist in terms of company health/history and contract terms are additional decision-making best practices. In some cases, a detailed evaluation of alternatives might ultimately lead you back to the build option.

In conclusion

The build vs. buy dilemma is common to a variety of industries. For software frameworks, this important decision can dictate the success or failure of your business. The pros and cons of each option are clear, although each situation brings a unique set of timeline, resource, and technical considerations that can alter the equation. Evaluating the available options in detail will help you make the most cost-effective and beneficial decision.

Build vs Buy: FAQs

What is the difference between building and buying a framework?

Building a software framework requires customized software infrastructure to be designed and built from the ground up, while buying means seeking out a ready-made software solution to purchase and integrate with your existing systems.

How much does it cost to build a custom framework?

The cost of building custom software varies significantly depending on the size, complexity, and features associated with the project. The final price tag can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What are the key factors to consider when choosing a framework?

Along with the cost and maintenance requirements, key factors to consider include the scalability, flexibility, and compatibility of the framework. Widely adopted frameworks are likely to have well-established support for implementation, security, and performance issues.

Can I customize a pre-built framework to meet my specific needs?

Many pre-built frameworks are designed to be customizable. Adapting the framework to your needs might involve choosing specific settings, adding plug-ins, or introducing middleware to enable communication with other applications.

What are the risks of vendor lock-in and how can I avoid them?

Vendor lock-in can introduce risks if the organization discontinues their product, and can also limit your ability to migrate to alternative solutions. Selecting interoperable software that follows open standards can minimize the risks of vendor lock-in.


Tags: Business Growth Business Leadership

  1. About the Author:

  2. About the Author:

    As a Principal at Valesco, Angie Henson serves in key roles related to new investment origination, portfolio management, and investor relations. She directs the firm’s strategic acquisition planning and program management as acting head of research and business development operations since 2002. Angie holds a Bachelor of Science from Tarleton State University and a certificate in entrepreneurial studies from Southern Methodist University.

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