One of the biggest tech crossroads that a company comes to, is whether to build a custom web application to serve their organization, or to use and / or customize off-the-shelf solutions.
We’ll dive deeper into this, but here’s the crux of it:
If you custom build, that means you own the investment and all of the appreciation. If you’re licensing 3rd party, you can glean some value through usage and continuity, but ultimately they are getting the lion’s share.
This isn’t to say that the de-facto decision is always to custom build. I won’t pull any punches; building a web application is a significant investment of money, time and resources. Through proper consideration and planning, you can determine if it’s right for you.
Through building a web application, there is also the possibility that your asset isn’t originally intended to be licensed or sold, but ultimately you realize that it’s marketable – setting you up for a new revenue channel, and a fairly straightforward way to recoup your investment.
The software Basecamp is a perfect example of this. It was originally the internal project management tool for the former studio 37Signals. Now Basecamp is their sole focus, and they shut down their client-services division altogether.
If this is the case, this makes for an easy YES on whether to custom build. If you’re intent is to launch a SaaS (Software as a Service), then you will want to own the application that you’re selling.
An example of one of our SaaS clients is CruitCast, a platform that is well on their way to revolutionizing the college athletic recruiting process.
A key advantage of creating an application, is that you have carte blanche to ascertain as many data points about your users as you want.
How often do they log-in? How much time do they spend in the application? What new features do they want?
Applications are powered by often enormous databases that store the data points we mentioned above. When we said earlier that applications grow in value, it is directly because the database holds the behavioral data of the users. If you own a custom web application, you own that data – and there are limitless ways to put it to work for you, and your users.
As companies grow, it’s not uncommon to one day realize that you have “dozens” of disparate softwares you’re using and the added upkeep of connecting them is a massive time (and money) drain.
Building an application around separate processes is a common place to start. Especially for larger organizations that are paying a per-license fee for each 3rd party software, it often makes more sense to rebuild the core functionality of each as your own system.
You would effectively end all fixed monthly costs, in exchange for a single reasonable investment.
Any 3rd party software is going to have certain understandable inadequacies that keep it effectively around a “95%” fit vs. custom, which could get you EXACTLY what you want.
If you’re working in a niche, or have a patented method of conducting your business, it may behoove you to build a web application around this.
This can apply especially to service businesses, where you may want to orchestrate a very specific experience for your clients.
Some highly-regulated industries may also need to have bespoke products vs. off-the-shelf due to legal or regulatory constraints (i.e. healthcare, finance, defense, etc.)
A good web application provider should absolutely be ready to help you turn a very abstract idea into a concrete scope of work, but the first and most-major hurdle is determining which direction is right for you.
If you decide to take the custom route, you will need to allocate a budget (don’t be shy about discussing this!) because the right provider can tailor a specific solution to suit your needs.
We specialize in custom web applications, and pride ourselves in process transparency and client satisfaction. Whether you’re ready to start your application, or still on the fence – scheduling a 30-min, free strategy session will be a great first step to taking action.