Build Versus Buy—Finding Middle Ground for Your Workplace Apps

Does this sound familiar? You have a backlog of apps that your workforce is craving, and you simply don’t have the team (or the time) to build them. In fact, the demand for apps is growing five times faster than IT’s capacity to deliver them. This crunch is probably all too familiar for many, and it’s forcing IT teams to find new ways to accelerate app development. The age-old question is, do you build, do you buy, or do you do something in between?

In the survey “The Mobile App Development Trends That Will Impact Your Enterprise in 2017,” Gartner says that 68% of organizations are expecting to increase spending for mobile apps. Reading this might lead you to believe more companies prefer to build their apps in-house, but finding a team that can rapidly and effectively build employee apps from the ground up is no small feat.

Unfortunately, finding a packaged app that can meet the needs of your workforce (and integrate with all of your systems) will also prove challenging. So what is the right solution? There are both pros and cons to developing apps in-house versus buying pre-built apps. Let’s explore both options—and take a look at a hybrid approach—to help you determine the right move for your organization.

The ‘Build Approach’ Provides Customization But Is Costly

Companies build their own apps so they can simplify business processes and become more efficient. Taking the “build approach” allows developers to create custom-built apps for the unique needs of their own organization. These apps also provide a competitive advantage since they can be tailored to the exact business requirements and processes of the organization, which can translate into quicker and more accurate decision making and ultimately enhance customer satisfaction.

But custom-built software comes at a high price. Homegrown apps can take up to a year to build and cost an average of $270,000—not to mention, a homegrown app generally runs on a single operating system, forcing developers to create multiple apps to support multiple types of devices. Additionally, once a company builds an app, it must be constantly maintained and upgraded to ensure employees can perform optimally. The sad truth is, these apps are often poorly managed or neglected because developers have a growing backlog of new apps to be developed. In fact, Gartner also notes that more than one-quarter of companies globally haven’t built, customized, or virtualized any mobile apps in the last 12 months. To make things worse, eight in 10 business leaders claim homegrown apps are responsible for the most network downtime. These leaders also stated that application outages cost more than $10,000 per hour and last an average of 3 or 4 hours.

The ‘Buy Approach’ Provides Limited Flexibility

Packaged vendor solutions don’t hold all the answers either.

On one hand, a vendor solution can offer valuable options for companies that have limited budgets or a lack of technical proficiency to build their own apps. They come with their own support teams, which can alleviate some of the burden on IT to get users up and running on new solutions.

On the other, it’s rare that an off-the-shelf software solution can address the specific needs of an organization. Vendor solutions can be rigid and don’t always allow companies to add or subtract features. This can limit the capabilities of employees trying to get their work done.

More problematic is that packaged software isn’t always compatible with the systems that are already being used inside an organization. A company might rely on Software A to complete one task and Software B to finish a second, related task. But, if the two applications do not communicate effectively, this may hinder employee productivity.

Finding the Middle Ground

Building apps can be costly, hard to maintain, and buggy, and buying apps doesn’t allow for customization and flexibility. So what other options are available?

What enterprises really need is an approach that allows them to combine the simplicity of a purchased tool with the ability to easily build and customize apps according to their specific business requirements.

Low-code development platforms are one possible answer. These types of solutions require little to no coding and are often cross-platform, allowing a single app to run on different devices and operating systems. Developers need less training to use them, allowing more experienced developers to focus on higher priority projects. In addition, low-code platforms enable developers to quickly connect to and build on top of their existing systems of record to help simplify workflows and make the data in those systems accessible to employees.

For example, a low-code micro app solution can enable faster, customized app development and ultimately improve employee productivity. Micro apps are lightweight, highly targeted apps that connect existing systems with the people that use them. They pull data from clunky legacy systems, databases, and SaaS solutions across an organization and deliver it to employees in a streamlined and actionable manner.

These low-code platforms offer a balance between deploying out-of-box solutions and developing in-house applications. Developers can achieve the same benefits of building custom apps by using pre-built templates and a drag-and-drop builder to create personalized apps without wasting development resources on maintenance and the complicated development process.

There are many options for bringing applications into the enterprise, from developing in-house, to buying them, to finding a solution that incorporates both approaches.  All of these options present their own challenges, but the demand for apps isn’t going to slow down. Organizations will need to find a way to overcome these challenges in order to remain viable in the future.


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