Custom Application or Out Of the Box (OOB)

One of the questions that every company faces at one time or another is, “Do we build this application or buy a commercial product off the shelf?”  It is this question that I would like to discuss in this blog.

To begin this discussion, let’s consider the following diagram:

An application could range from a fully customized, written from scratch content management system, to a middle of the road system like SharePoint that is implemented off of the shelf.  However, it often requires custom development to achieve the functionality that is required to a completely unmodified software package like Microsoft Excel.

As shown in the graphic above there are usually three factors that are taken into consideration when deciding which path your company will take: Cost of development /deployment, Suitability and Time to deployment.  A cursory examination of these factors may lead you to believe that the best answer is to buy an OOB solution for whatever the need is.  I would argue that it depends on how well the system is suited to your organization and it needs.  It does not matter how cheap or quickly you can implement a system if it does not have the functionality needed to efficiently run your business.

Mark Lutchen, former global CIO of PricewaterhouseCoopers said “Everybody knows that the more standardized you are the more you buy off-the-shelf”, However I believe an organization should focus on what it is good at.  With that in mind, I would suggest buying a system if its functions are essential to the success of your company and are also standard tools that are used by many companies.  Moreover, build the system if it is an area of expertise for your company and will give you a distinct advantage over your competition.