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Blog / Informative

Build v/s Buy in SaaS

Let's discuss the dilemma that every manager faces at some point. Should you build your own solution or just signup for a SaaS that gets you close enough?

Tanisha Chouhan

Wed Sep 20 2023 β€’ 9 min read

Build vs. Buy: Navigating the Dilemma

In the rapidly evolving landscape of Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses, the decision between building an in-house solution or buying an existing software solution is a crucial dilemma that organizations often grapple with. Each approach carries its own set of advantages and challenges, catering to different business needs and goals. In this blog, we will dissect the intricacies of the build vs. buy debate, helping you make an informed decision that aligns with your business objectives.

The build approach - crafting custom solutions

When considering the build approach, organizations opt to create their software solution from the ground up. This offers a range of benefits, such as full customization, compatibility with existing systems, and complete control over critical business information. By tailoring the solution to their specific requirements, companies can ensure it perfectly aligns with their unique needs.

For instance, Netflix's decision to build its content delivery network (CDN) in-house allowed it to customize it to handle massive traffic and offer a seamless streaming experience. This approach can be advantageous when the in-house solution directly ties into the company's core competency and promises a clear Return on Investment (ROI).

However, the build approach isn't without its challenges. It demands a significant financial investment, requires skilled resources, and can easily fall victim to scope creep - where the project's scope expands beyond the initial plan, causing delays and budget overruns.

Build SaaS example: Airbnb

Airbnb, a global online marketplace for lodging and travel experiences, is a classic example of a company that opted to build its own SaaS solution to meet its unique business needs. In its early days, Airbnb needed a platform that could facilitate booking accommodations in various locations, manage payments, provide secure communication between hosts and guests, and offer an intuitive user interface. Since there was no existing solution that perfectly aligned with its vision, Airbnb decided to build its in-house platform.

By building its own SaaS solution, Airbnb gained complete control over the user experience, features, and design elements. They were able to tailor the platform to their specific requirements and create a brand identity that resonated with their target audience. This level of customization allowed Airbnb to stand out in the market and offer a unique value proposition.

However, building their platform came with challenges. Airbnb needed to invest significant time, resources, and expertise to develop, test, and maintain its solution. Additionally, they had to ensure scalability to accommodate their rapid growth. Despite the challenges, their decision to build an in-house solution ultimately contributed to their success and differentiation in the competitive travel and hospitality industry.

The buy approach - Leveraging existing expertise

The buy approach involves purchasing an existing SaaS solution from a vendor. This route offers several advantages, including predictable costs, faster time-to-market, and expert support from the vendor. Instead of dedicating resources to development, organizations can focus on implementing and utilizing the software to meet their business needs.

Salesforce, for example, is a popular CRM software that businesses buy to streamline customer relationship management. This approach offers resource relief and the flexibility to adapt to evolving business requirements.

However, challenges persist in the buying approach as well. Customization might be limited, leading to compromises in functionality. Integration with existing systems can be complex, potentially resulting in data silos. Moreover, the risk of vendor lock-in, data ownership concerns, scalability limitations, compatibility issues, and security vulnerabilities must be carefully considered.

Buy SaaS example: Salesforce

Salesforce, a leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform, is a prime example of a company that successfully leveraged a purchased SaaS solution. When Salesforce was founded, there were already CRM solutions in the market. Instead of building their own CRM from scratch, Salesforce decided to buy into an existing SaaS solution and innovate on top of it.

By choosing to buy a SaaS solution, Salesforce was able to accelerate its time-to-market significantly. They could quickly roll out their CRM platform, offering features like sales automation, customer service, and marketing tools to businesses of all sizes. This fast entry into the market allowed Salesforce to gain a competitive edge and become a dominant player in the CRM industry.

While Salesforce purchased the core CRM capabilities, they also invested in customization options. Their AppExchange marketplace allows customers to integrate additional apps and tailor their CRM experience to their specific needs. This combination of buying a core solution and customizing it to meet individual customer requirements enabled Salesforce to capture a large share of the CRM market.

"Buying software off the shelf is like buying a suit: you have to make do with the nearest fit." - Richard Stallman, Founder of the Free Software Movement

Factors influencing the decision - Asking the right questions

In conclusion, the decisions to build or buy SaaS solutions are influenced by factors such as the company's unique needs, available resources, time constraints, and competitive landscape. Both approaches have their merits and challenges, and real-life examples like Airbnb and Salesforce showcase how each approach can lead to success depending on the strategic goals and circumstances of the organization.

Before making the build vs. buy decision, organizations should consider factors such as the size of their development team, revenue, and the complexity of the problem they're trying to solve. Assessing the core competency of the development team and the potential ROI are critical steps in this evaluation process.

Customization and control vs. Predictability and time-to-market

The choice between building an in-house software solution and buying an existing one is not just about costs; it's a strategic decision that revolves around finding the right balance between customization and control on one hand and predictability and time-to-market on the other. Each approach offers a unique set of benefits and challenges, and understanding how they intersect with your organization's goals is essential.

Customization and control:

When you decide to build an in-house solution, you're opting for a high degree of customization and control. This approach allows you to create a software solution that is tailor-made to fit your exact business needs. You have the freedom to shape every aspect of the software, from features and functionality to user experience and design.

Customization provides a competitive edge when your organization's processes are highly specialized or unique. It can also be critical in industries with specific regulatory requirements. By maintaining control over the development process, you can ensure that the software aligns perfectly with your existing systems and workflows. This can lead to increased efficiency and more seamless integration within your organization.

However, customization comes with trade-offs. Developing a highly customized solution demands time, resources, and expertise. It might extend the development timeline, delaying your entry into the market. Moreover, custom solutions can become complex and difficult to maintain over time, leading to higher long-term costs.

Predictability and time-to-market:

Choosing to buy an existing SaaS solution offers predictability and a faster time-to-market. Established SaaS solutions have already been developed, tested, and fine-tuned by experts. This means you can quickly implement the software and start using it to address your business needs.

Predictability in terms of costs is another advantage. When you buy a solution, you typically pay subscription fees or licensing costs, making it easier to budget and forecast expenses. This can be especially beneficial for startups and small businesses with limited resources.

The fast time-to-market associated with purchasing a solution can be a game-changer in today's fast-paced business environment. You can rapidly deploy the software and start realizing its benefits sooner, which is especially important when responding to market demands or staying ahead of competitors.

Striking the Right Balance:

The decision between customization and control versus predictability and time-to-market isn't a binary choice. It's about finding the optimal balance that aligns with your organization's unique circumstances.

For instance, if your business operates in a highly competitive market where being first to market is critical, a purchased solution might be the way to go. On the other hand, if your business thrives on delivering a unique value proposition that requires a tailored software solution, building in-house might be the better choice.

In some cases, a middle ground might be suitable. Purchasing a solution and then customizing it to a certain extent can offer the best of both worlds. This approach allows you to take advantage of an existing solution's strengths while tailoring it to your specific needs.

Calculating total cost of ownership (TCO) - The financial perspective

When organizations stand at the crossroads of deciding between building an in-house solution or buying an existing software solution, understanding the concept of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) becomes paramount.

TCO is a holistic financial metric that goes beyond the initial upfront costs and delves into the full spectrum of expenses associated with software development, implementation, and maintenance. In the SaaS landscape, where cost-effectiveness is a central concern, a thorough evaluation of TCO is critical to making a well-informed decision.

Breaking down the total cost of ownership:

Development costs: For in-house development, this includes expenses related to hiring and training developers, project management, design, coding, testing, and documentation. These upfront costs are often significant and can include salaries, benefits, hardware, software licenses, and more. On the other hand, buying an existing solution entails licensing fees, subscription costs, and potential customization expenses.

Implementation costs: Implementing a solution involves integration with existing systems, data migration, training, and user adoption. These costs can vary widely depending on the complexity of the solution and the existing technology landscape. Both the build and buy approaches have associated implementation costs, but they might differ in terms of complexity and duration.

Maintenance and upgrades: Software solutions require ongoing maintenance to fix bugs, provide updates, and ensure optimal performance. With an in-house solution, these costs encompass staff salaries, system monitoring, and infrastructure upkeep. For purchased solutions, vendors often handle updates, but businesses might still need to allocate resources for integration, user support, and potential customizations.

Support and training: Users need support and training to effectively use the software. For in-house solutions, this might involve setting up an internal support team or outsourcing support services. For purchased solutions, vendors usually provide support, but organizations might still need to allocate resources to train employees and ensure smooth operation.

Downtime and disruption: Both building and buying can lead to disruptions as systems are developed, integrated, or migrated. Downtime can impact productivity and revenue, and calculating its potential costs is a crucial part of TCO assessment.

Scalability and future expansion: As your organization grows, the software solution should scale accordingly. Building might provide more flexibility in this regard, but scaling might require additional development efforts and costs. Purchased solutions might offer scalability, but organizations must consider potential fees for expanding usage.

Data security and compliance: Ensuring data security and compliance can be a substantial expense. Building in-house allows more control over security measures, but it also demands investment in cybersecurity tools and expertise. Purchased solutions often come with built-in security features, but businesses should assess their adequacy for their specific needs.

Informed decision-making with TCO:

Understanding TCO empowers organizations to make decisions based on the complete financial picture rather than just the initial investment. It’s not solely about comparing the upfront costs of building vs. buying but also accounting for ongoing expenses and potential risks.

Ultimately, the decision to build or buy should align with your organization's financial resources, technical capabilities, growth plans, and long-term objectives. Evaluating TCO provides a comprehensive perspective that guides you toward a choice that ensures both financial prudence and operational efficiency in the dynamic world of SaaS.

Making the right choice for your business

In conclusion, the decision to build or buy in the SaaS realm isn't a one-size-fits-all choice. Recapitulating the benefits and challenges of both approaches, it's clear that businesses should prioritize informed decision-making. Evaluate development capabilities, growth potential, and long-term objectives before making the final call.

Whether opting for in-house development or purchasing off-the-shelf solutions, align your choice with the organization's core competencies, scalability needs, and overall value for the investment. Ultimately, a well-considered decision will pave the way for success and sustainable growth for your organization in the dynamic world of SaaS.

Innovate, build, and thrive with Canonic

Canonic, with its user-friendly interface, paves the way for individuals from various backgrounds and skill levels to craft SaaS products tailored to niche markets. In a world driven by innovation, this platform harnesses the power of no-code development, enabling you to transform your ingenious concepts into fully operational applications without the need for extensive coding expertise.

With Canonic, the tools you need to create captivating user experiences, configure intricate data structures, and construct complex workflows are at your fingertips.

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