Build it or Buy it?  Choosing Business Applications that Work for You

Your business is unique. That’s probably why you’re still in business. You offer something different that customers value. But with that uniqueness comes unique problems that you’ll have to solve. When this happens, you’ll have two options: Build a solution or buy a solution.

Standard Applications

Just like searching for your dream home, buying something that’s already built has advantages. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it doesn’t require much thought. But does it suit your needs?

When buying standard applications, you’ll have one of two issues. Either, one, the software doesn’t go far enough to address all your concerns. Or two, the software is expensive and may address the problem you have – but it could be overkill. Do you really need to pay extra for features that aren’t relevant to your problem?

Off-the-shelf software is designed to suit everyone and solve general problems. It’s not tailored to fit your exact need. The software engineers haven’t taken the time to understand your business, your industry, or your project’s requirements. If you don’t conform to the standard way of doing business, off-the-shelf solutions may leave you wondering why you paid for it in the first place.

Custom Applications

The fear of the unknown can make custom applications seem scary. You have to find a software architect you can trust and define the problems the app needs to solve. But off-the-shelf products must be customized to some extent as well, to integrate with your IT infrastructure and work processes.

With a custom application, you’re starting with a blank slate. You have full control. A good software engineer will help you define requirements and suggest the best tools for the current job. Perhaps the best argument for developing software specific to your business, industry or operating model is that a custom app can be designed with an eye toward the future.

Down the line you may want to make updates, cross platforms, or add features to improve your offering. Standard applications don’t allow for this kind of foresight like a dedicated software engineer. Unlike standard applications, custom apps also can be designed and configured to work with a variety of legacy systems and new products, extending the life of your older software and allowing for you to connect new and old to save money.

Software architects will take the time to understand your business and determine what solution fits and what simply doesn’t. You won’t wind up with an unmanageably complicated product. You won’t have to learn a whole new system. You can focus on your primary responsibilities, not add to them.

Solving Problems in the Real World

It’s hard to decide which choice to pursue when you don’t know what’s even possible. That’s where the mind of an engineer comes in handy. Not long ago a large trade association representing energy producers came to us with the same question about a big data entry challenge. The organization collects data from member companies on usage and delivery of the raw and refined materials for development of policy, market reports, and to conform with regulations.

The Business Challenge

Originally, the organization manually collected this data and compiled it into a single, massive, federally mandated report. It took 14 months to produce a 12-month document. Step one was to create an app each producer could use to enter their data, but at that time, it still had to be shipped on diskette to the association for reporting. If errors were found, the data was then mailed back and the process started over again.  This was extremely inefficient.

Moreover, the association was being asked to collect additional, varying types of data.  The problem was, the data to be collected may be different from year to year, month to month, or a simple one-off survey. Staff needed the ability to create any type of survey, targeted to a specific group of energy producers.

The Software Solution

As a custom application, there was no need to start from scratch. We upgraded the most recent software to a web-based application designed to facilitate the entire survey process.  Users now can create data sets to hold data; create data-bound, custom survey screens to render the surveys for the collections process; create real-time validations, calculations, and checkpoints for any collected data; determine various collection cycles for survey data (e.g.: weekly, monthly, yearly, ad-hoc); create custom queries; and produce the required reporting.

Trusted Expertise

The goal of any custom application is to improve business productivity, workflow, output, and ease of use. Summit’s application team helps clients customize and implement software solutions to achieve all those objectives. Specialties include:

·         Web application programming
·         Mobile app development
·         Business intelligence
·         Website design and development

Whether you need an off-the-shelf product to be tailored to your specific business process, or you need custom software for a variety of end-user devices, we’ll find or build the right solution for your needs. Don’t know what you don’t know? Call us with your questions.

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Chris Beatty

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