Build or Buy Application Development?

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There’s nothing quite like a bespoke suit. Having something custom made for you makes that item special and specific to your needs.

Back in the day when materials were expensive and labor was cheap, most people had one, perhaps two custom made suits. Today, materials are cheap and labor is expensive so clothes are mass manufactured on assembly lines overseas and people have closets full of commodity items that are “prêt-à-porter” or “ready to wear.”

Just a few years ago the application market was in its infancy and if you wanted an app, you likely had to build it from scratch. Those days are long gone. There are many marketplaces where you can shop for “ready to wear” applications on almost any platform.

Build or buy is a fairly common question in all aspects of business and it’s no different in application development. What is different in application development is that you are tied to the platform that the app needs to run on and that platforms “stores” where you shop for applications. 

So the bigger question may be how robust is the application market for your platform? This is one of the many reasons BlumShapiro is totally committed to the Microsoft platform. The level of interoperability across the Microsoft stack is remarkable. At Microsoft, the group that is the home to SQL Server is called “App plat” – the developer tools division was designed to build apps on top of SQL databases that would surface in all types of Microsoft programs, including Office for the greatest level of accessibility for end users that may need access to the application. Microsoft works with the most popular mobile platforms and offers an exceptional experience on both Android and iOS. Consumption of the tool, or application is an important consideration in your “build or buy” decision.

There are several other key considerations when developing an application. One of the first questions that tend to come up with a client is the usage scenario for the application, especially around the idea of is this app something we want to sell as code, or will this be something to use internally as a service to your clients. Having clarity of purpose on the usage scenario for your app needs to be clear for everyone on the team. In our work with clients we tend to start with four key questions to think about when it comes to app development. When you sit down to think about your app some questions you need to ask yourself include:

  1. What does it do?
  2. Who is it for?
  3. What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  4. Is this the best way to solve the problem?

Question 4 reminds me of a presentation given by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, insulin pump and founder of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). In his presentation he discussed the “forward facing chariot” developed by the Mongols while traversing the Gobi Desert. The forward facing chariot did exactly what it said – it always faced forward. There was a pointer on the chariot connected to the wheels so that if one wheel were spinning faster than the other and the chariot were turning, there would be an indication of the turn. This ensured that the Mongol hordes did not get lost going in circles in the desert. And it worked… but then again, so does a compass, which is smaller, lighter, cheaper and more reliable. The moral of the story is don’t invent forward facing chariots when a compass does the same thing… better.

How to avoid this in modern application development? Do your research and find an app on your platform that is close to what you need, then get a good “tailor” for a custom fit.

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