“Compose or Customize” instead of “Build or Buy” The renaissance of individual software
Because the development of individual software is complex, many companies adapt their processes to standard software. However, digital competition virtually requires a return to tailor-made software, which is no longer an obstacle in terms of speed of introduction.
Some business areas and their processes are very well covered by off-the-shelf software, in others in-house developments are better suited.
Just over thirty years ago, the employees in the company were the driving force for business processes. They were organized by strict hierarchies and supported by local IT systems with a very limited range of functions.
If it was necessary to align the company to new market requirements, change management solutions were used to restructure organizational charts, employees were retrained or new staff were hired. Changes to the existing IT systems were also made from time to time, but the very limited adaptability of the solutions was not in the least an obstacle to business success.
Two things have changed since then: On the one hand, a company today is structurally composed of almost equal parts of employees and digital assets. These assets – be they applications or data – are just as much a central part of the company as the employees are. Secondly, the cycles in which technological disruptions, aggressive competitors or new market opportunities require an adaptation or even transformation of the company are also becoming shorter and shorter.
Nowadays, not only employees have to adapt to this, but also the supporting digital systems across the entire organization – and very quickly. A new status quo that off-the-shelf software can hardly do justice to.
Standard software for standard processes
Especially in the recent past, standard software has established itself as the holy grail in the minds of IT managers and company managers. Why reinvent the wheel every time when the existing requirements have already been fully solved by others? And in fact, there are proven software offers for almost every industry and every special area – right up to numerous niche markets.
The underlying consideration is valid at first glance: especially in areas such as accounting, there are processes that are very well covered by off-the-shelf software. Some subsequent adjustment may be necessary, but on the whole, the process can be executed just as well as specified by the software – as everyone on the market does anyway. The employees adapt to the software, the acquired solutions run productively within a few weeks or months.
Software for DNA
But companies are like snowflakes – no two are ever identical; and this is where standard software reaches its limits. What works for processes that are relatively generic in every company becomes a difficulty or perhaps even a risk for processes that are strongly associated with the individual value creation core of the company – be it product development, warehousing or even manufacturing processes.
In these central areas, the software should represent a seamless image of the individual business core and express its DNA: exactly what makes the company unique. This cannot be achieved with off-the-shelf software. After all, how should processes run the decisive tick more cleverly or more efficiently than in the competition with solutions that also use them in exactly the same way?
The comeback of self-development
In today’s world, companies need tailor-made software solutions that precisely cover the process core of the company and make the company flexible for increasing technological and social changes. More and more companies are therefore gradually moving away from forcing their own processes into the corset of the software of others, and are rediscovering the in-house development of tailor-made solutions for themselves.
Which brings us back to the cost of developing individual software. Even if tailor–made solutions are essential in today’s world – where should companies get the resources that would be required for their own development? What company can afford to deploy large teams of developers to write thousands and thousands of lines of code, as was the case in the past?
The continuous technological progress that makes the required agility and changeability in companies necessary in the first place can also be part of the solution. Modern development approaches such as DevOps, agile development or the use of low-code at enterprise level can help to significantly accelerate development processes.
Modern low-code development platforms, for example, offer developers ready-made, but at the same time comprehensively configurable and customizable building blocks from which the required solutions can be assembled – with a significantly lower time expenditure than is the case with manual development. The resulting code can then be edited or extended as required.
Software “Made to Measure”
Accordingly, development teams no longer have to start from scratch to develop an application. You can take advantage of cloud services and enterprise APIs to create tailor-made solutions much faster, more adaptable and more cost-effective than was the case in the first marriage of individual software.
This development is comparable to a new approach to the production of a tailor-made suit: in order for it to fit the individual physique of the customer optimally, it was classically custom-made by the tailor and the garment was custom-made on this basis.
The use of modular building blocks in software development, on the other hand, corresponds to the so-called “made to measure” principle: the use of prefabricated fabric elements in a wide variety of sizes and cuts, from which the tailor selects the most suitable and thus composes the tailor-made suit. Even if the length of the sleeves or the arrangement of the buttons still has to be slightly adjusted afterwards, the production of the tailored suit has been significantly accelerated compared to purely manual work.
“Build or Buy” becomes “Customize or Compose”
In general, the dilemma between “build” and “buy” has developed significantly over the past few years. Through offerings such as software-as-a-Service, standard software has also gained in flexibility and adaptability. At the same time, the idea that in-house developments must always be costly and inefficient is based on the software development models of the past.
Today, companies have to choose between “customize” or “compose” much more than between “buy” or “build”. Either companies rely on a standard solution and invest time and money to adapt it at least as far as possible to their needs. Or you can create the required application yourself.
Tino Bow Tie
This does not have to be done line by line of code, but by using proven function blocks and compiling the desired application from them with significantly higher efficiency. The latter opens up the possibility for companies to efficiently return to the supreme discipline of individual software in order to survive in the tough, fast–paced competition of today – with exactly what makes it unique.
* Tino Fliege is Solution Architect at OutSystems.