How to Choose the Best Method for Developing Software Solutions

JP Lessard November 3, 2016

When to Use Your Staff vs. When to Outsource Software Development

Implementing new solutions for your business is a balancing act. You want to find the right solution for your business without wasting time or money. Abandoning or delaying projects will cause you to miss out on clients and lose business. That’s why it’s important to know exactly what you want before you begin.

Off-the-shelf and cookie-cutter softwares are frequently too general and aren’t designed around or adequately suited for your business. They simply won’t cut it for your unique systems and processes. If you make the decision to go with a custom solution, make sure you think about who will be developing the project and the process that they will use.

When choosing to develop your own custom software, you’re faced with three options:

  1. Build the solution internally.
  2. Hire a freelance developer.
  3. Partner with a technology firm.

All three options come with their own method of getting the work done and can be valuable to the success of your business if applied properly, but knowing when to use what type of service will make all the difference. Here we’ll break down the benefits and potential challenges that come with each method:

Building Software Solutions Internally

If you don’t have the budget or infrastructure to support hiring and maintaining your own team internally, jump ahead to the other two options below. If you do, here are some tips about this option:  Using internal staff can be a cost effective way to produce small projects, provided that your staff has the proper knowledge and experience. If you have an aging software system requiring frequent fixes or changes that don’t impact your core business processes, using an internal team to manage these minor updates to the system is ideal. In-house teams should also be able to produce quick, inexpensive solutions to accommodate needs like data collection, report building, information importing, and other short-lifespan solutions.

While you should take advantage of having an internal software support person or team, there are many potential challenges that can arise. Using internal staff may save money, but only if you have enough valuable work to keep them busy full-time—whether you keep their workload full or not, you will be paying them the same amount. It could also lead to lesser solutions being implemented, which could cost you money in unexpected ways in the long run (things like lost efficiency, missed opportunities, or even just using an outdated technology which needs to be replaced sooner than you’d like). This is why internal staff are more commonly used for quick fixes and support. Having become accustomed to your current business systems and processes, internal staff sometimes have difficulty seeing the larger picture and tend to be less exposed to new technology trends and advances. As a result, it’s more difficult for them to visualize new and better ways of doing things, rather than just find a way to make an older, less effective system, work a little better. Because of this, you may want to look outside of your company when looking for ways to innovate on your current processes.

Hiring a Low-Cost Freelance Developer

When businesses look outside their company for software development, the option of a cheap freelance developer is always tempting and can be ideal if you have limited expectations. If you’re in the market for a simple, specific function application such as a scheduling manager, calculator/estimation tool, a simple mobile app which doesn’t need integration with your other systems, or a report building tool—freelance developers are often suitable for creating these types of one-off solutions. Often offering “cookie-cutter” applications, they commonly use a base program as a template and tweak it to fit your company’s needs. While this is typically not the best custom software solution, it can be a fitting choice for your business if you need a simple or quick fix. The program won’t be specifically tailored to your business, but it can work for non-core areas of your business, or provide a short-term solution to hold you over until you’re ready to implement something more robust.

Challenges posed from hiring freelance developers stem from their limited resources and lack of manpower. They aren’t equipped with all the tools that a larger technology firm would have and they don’t have the synergy of a fully staffed development team. This limits the complexity and quality of the solutions they are able to offer and can lead them to suggest a lesser solution simply because they can’t afford or have the time to implement something better. A larger concern however, is that their work is typically not guaranteed, and once the project is finished they tend to move onto the next project and leave you to maintain the new software on your own, whereas working internally or with a technology firm would be far more reliable for long-term solutions and support.

Technology Firms and Custom Software Development Services

If you want guaranteed work and software designed specifically for your business, technology firms are the most reliable and knowledgeable partners. This is especially the case if your project will have a major impact on your core business processes, or there are nuances and complexities which need to be figured out and unique solutions applied. Unlike freelance developers or even internal staff, these firms have experience with a wide variety of technologies and access to all the latest tools they need to create top of the line software solutions. This allows them to complete significant custom software projects which can help advance your business the way you envision. Where a freelance developer or internal staff may be limited on their knowledge base or experience, technology firms have an entire dedicated team with individual specialties and broad experience base—ready to apply the right solution based on the unique needs of your project. Because they have a large group of experts working together, firms are able to dedicate time to research and development, making sure all of their software solutions have the best features. Also, because of the wide range of projects they complete, they won’t be as tempted to use your project as a guinea pig for the “latest and greatest” technology just because they want to play with it—they will help choose the right solution given your specific needs. In short, you won’t end up with a partial solution or a lesser product.

A potential challenge when hiring a firm is deciding which one is right for your business. Since software development and support is an ongoing process, finding a firm that you can create an ongoing relationship is vital. Look for a firm that holds a good track record and who has completed projects for companies with needs similar to yours. You’ll want one who adds value before and after the development process itself—help with initial designing and ultimately supporting the solution are just as important as what is being built. These are typically signs of a good fit. You want a firm who truly wants to be your partner. The best ones realize that if they can help your business succeed, their business will succeed too.

The Best Path for Your Business

Choosing the right method to develop new software solutions is critical, especially if you’re in dire need of a solution. You never want to work through the beginning steps or get half way through a project only to find the path you’ve chosen isn’t working out. Abandoning projects and starting over is costly, so it’s important to make the right choice from the start. If you’re still not sure of where to begin, we’re here to help!

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Meet the Author

JP Lessard is the President of Business Software Solutions at Miles Technologies. He coordinates the vision of countless business software solutions for clients. With extensive expertise in the analysis of businesses processes, JP is a strategic force in the management and planning for all software services, including software systems architecture, business process engineering, database design and management, website design, mobile applications, systems integration and more.

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