What do you do?
Do you feel that your requirements are so general that any system will do and go to the market with your set of requirements, looking for an off the shelf solution?
Or, considering your requirements, do you feel they are too niche and special that you go to a set of developers to build you a custom application?
Or are you somewhere in between.
Building from Scratch
The first rule of thumb is to remember that this will always take longer than you expect, and longer than your developer(s) say it will. (I have found it can be as much as 2 to 5 times longer!) Therefore budgeting can be tricky and you are likely to be paying out for a long time before you get any return.
The plus side of a “built it” approach is that you should not pay any additional licence to use fees unless you set up your agreement with your developers poorly.
Remember to double check your IPR agreement!
Off the Shelf
Consider the 80/20 rule when looking into an off the shelf solution; you are likely to get 80% of your requirements for 20% of the cost of building yourself.
Admitting here that I might be slightly biased, I believe there are many advantages to buying an off the shelf solution, although I would recommend you buy one that offers flexibility for customisation and extension by you.
Vertical or Horizontal?
When buying off the shelf, there are two options – vertical or horizontal.
With CRM there are vertical solutions that service markets from the management solutions for the legal practice to finance, retail and so on.
Some may try to cover more than just CRM, covering every aspect of running your organisation allowing you to be a complete practice management solution. In my experience, there are very few such solutions that do a great job at everything, but you have to access the fit of the solution against your business requirements.
If you go for a horizontal solution that does a great job of CRM, you may need to add the consideration of integrating with alternative solutions that can manage the other aspects of your business, such as recording and billing. This Best of Bread approach can be very successful, with the advances in technology making integration less painful than might previously have been.
I have listed below some of the considerations when making your choice. You may wish to score your preferred options against these. If you are looking to buy, but from a very niche supplier they may score low in some areas, but their specific knowledge and experience might make up for that.
However, there are partners that take a horizontal platform or technology and then add their own vertically focused customisations to it. You could see this as the best of both worlds, it is certainly proving effective for our customers in the world of Telecomms service providers.
You get the cost effectiveness and flexibility of a horizontal platform or application, but with specific features/functions appropriate to your industry, but without being limited by a niche supplier.
Build or Buy Considerations
- Flexible solution – able to be shaped to your requirements
- Administration/customisation tools included – enabling you to do at least some of the admin/configuration/customisation, ideally without the need for a degree in rocket science
- Common use technologies – finding that a solutions works on a proprietary database, will probably add to cost one way or another
- Solid vendor – consider what the key markets a vendor is in, is your just a side line
- Solid Partner – a lot of vendors work indirect, so what is the choice of partners, is there only one in the country, what would you do if you wanted to change partners
- International support – if required how would you get it via vendor/Partner
- Out of the box integrations – particularly with you chosen email/calendar system such as Outlook, Office etc
- Out of the box reporting capability – ideally with the ability for you to modify/add new reports etc
Have a Sense of Community
These days, any reasonable product will have user and partner communities.
Researching these communities will give you a very good insight into the experiences – both good and bad – that others are having. It will also give you an idea of how much informal support you might get.
Forums, newsgroups, blogs, social media and more, all add up to you NOT being on your own. Knowing you will have a choice of partner/supplier if your current relationship doesn’t work out is a good thing.
The communities are also a good source when searching for off the shelf add-ons, reducing the cost of a feature or function that your chosen product is missing. Certainly, this is one area that an in-house solution will never have, but one that could prove invaluable.