Mobile Solutions – Buy or Build?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told over the years: “We’re not interested in your software as our corporate policy is to develop in-house.” To which my response has always been: “??!!@*!”.

To date I’ve always managed to stop myself from actually saying it.

You don’t build your own laptops, kettles, or offices, so why are you so insistent on building your own software?

Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a place for bespoke software - I spent 8 years on the board of a company whose main source of revenue was bespoke app development. What I struggle with is the idea that this should be a starting point – before the requirements are fully understood or the options evaluated.

Defining Core Goals

What I’ve also been struck by over the years is just how many in-house development projects get shelved because they take too long to implement. To be fair, the same is sometimes true of projects using off-the-shelf software. Perhaps even more important than whether you’re buying or building is first establishing a small, core set of objectives that the project must meet to be successful – allow your list of Must Haves to get too bloated and you may struggle to deliver anything.

Once you’ve listed those goals and requirements that are genuinely essential, the next question should always be: What is there out there that does what I want? Software companies spend millions of pounds and thousands of developer-hours solving problems. They’ve taken the risk so it makes sense, where possible, to benefit from their investment.

In reality of course no company builds all of its own software – most companies use Office (or equivalents), and few would build their own CRM. But is mobile different?

The Mobile Landscape

When any new software tech comes out, the early adopters will have to build (or pay someone to build) their own applications. That then evolves over time until bespoke development becomes the exception rather than the rule.

The mobile landscape is changing as more and more software companies invest in the development of mobile apps and integrated cloud-based services targeted at businesses. And I don’t mean just adding a very basic client on to an existing web-based system, but companies that really get the benefits of mobile, that are mobile-first.

And if you have a field-based team, mobile-first equates to user-first, which is why products such as Barking for Service, Formworks, iPresent and LiiD put the mobile user experience at the very heart of their solutions. These are not “bleeding-edge” technologies, but products developed by companies that had the foresight in the early days of mobile to see what most of the software giants, for all their marketing hype, have still not truly embraced.


Before making a decision on whether to buy or build, it’s critical to develop a short list of core requirements, without which the project cannot be a success.

Once you have that list, the answer to my original question is clear:

Build by all means. But only if there’s nothing you can buy that will do the job.

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