To build or to buy? That is the question

So you need a system. It has to be able to manage the clients, the money, the processes, the data.  You’ve done some research online and found a few products that can do some of the things you need, but there’s nothing that seems exactly right.

“For many companies, particularly SMEs, finding the perfect software solution can be daunting,” says Jan Lombard of Innosys. “Off-the-shelf options either do too much, or too little. Then there’s the cost aspect to consider, as well as scalability, training and ongoing support.

“A software system is a huge commitment, both in terms of resources and its influence on the strategic direction of your business. It’s important to make the right choice.”

The first step is to understand your business’ objectives. Are you aiming to sell large volumes of simple products or lower volumes of an offering that’s more niched? Does your differentiator lie in how you engage with your policyholders, your pricing model, or your claims process? Having a clear idea of where you need flexibility from a system and where vanilla-flavour is just fine will go a long way to ensuring you do make the right decision.

“At first glance, off-the shelf systems appear to be the way to go,” says Lombard. “They are cheaper initially and most appear ready to roll out almost immediately.

“But there can be some substantial pitfalls when taking the seemingly cheaper route. And with technology becoming more and more accessible, even smaller companies are seeing value in building their own software systems from the ground up.”

Here are some of the ways that tailor-made software can benefit your business:

1. It does exactly what you need it to do

Many companies find that off-the-shelf software can only meet a portion of their requirements, but include a host of capabilities that they don’t need or use.

Customised software, on the other hand, is built around the precise needs of your business. It does exactly what you want it to do – no more and no less. It integrates seamlessly into your existing systems – CRM, accounting, HR – with no need for these to change.

Similarly, you can follow your existing business processes and even re-use the hardware that you currently have.

2. It adjusts to your changing business environment

How many times have you heard stories of companies growing beautifully – only their off-the-shelf software isn’t able to keep up?

Customised software is scalable and flexible. It grows as your business grows and changes as your business changes. You will never have to worry about running obsolete systems again.

3. Your software is your software

This is important on two levels. Firstly, having your own system gives your business a competitive advantage in the market. No one else can do it like you do!

Secondly, you own the code. If you want to take it to another service provider or bring your development in-house, you can do so. If you’re unhappy with your generic product or the provider, your options really are limited. You have to work around the issue, or throw out the baby with the bath water.

4. You know the people who develop your system

Generic software is often sold at arm’s length.  After the software is installed, you can be faced with complex communication procedures and long waits for your changes to be made

When your software is custom made, you work closely with the team who are building it. Their understanding of your business means queries can be dealt with quickly and effectively.

As an extension of your team, they will often spot gaps and opportunities in your system and will be able to help you to resolve them.

5. Training is easier and cheaper

In this instance, easier and cheaper is good! Generic software solutions are just that, generic. They may work in a way that is counter-intuitive for your business, which means hours and hours of figuring things out before you can start training your staff.

With customised software there’s no need for any of that. Your influence over the design of the system means it should be intuitive to use and a good match for the way your team prefers to work.

6. It’s not all or nothing

Even if you’ve chosen to implement a package as your core administration system, don’t rule out adding customised software to solve specific needs in your business. Consider customer and broker portals, mobile apps, or modules for specialist teams such as risk surveyors. Integrating your custom software and your package should be no challenge for a good software development team.

7. It’s not just for big companies

Many SMEs are seeing the benefits of custom development in their organisations. The initial outlay may be higher, but the return on that investment is often better and realised faster. Advances in technology mean quicker build times and reduced risk, making custom software more accessible than ever before.

“The important thing is to make sure it works for you,” says Lombard. “Be sure to do an in-depth cost benefit analysis before any project begins. Realise that this is a long-term commitment and cost it as such. You’ll be surprised at the results.”