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When to Build vs. Buy Software for Quality Improvement

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Aug 3, 2021 9:28:12 AM

Tiles that spell Buy vs. Build.Organizations of all types and sizes have realized that continuous quality improvement is easiest to spread and sustain if a software platform is used to support it. If you are ready to take your organization's approach to positive change to the next level by doing so, congratulations! Our customers have found that the benefits of using technology to support improvement are vast.

Once you've decided to automate improvement, the next decision is whether to build a solution in-house or with custom development or to license commercially available software. The choice will have significant and long-lasting ramifications, so it is worth a considerable amount of deliberation. 

Critical Considerations When Deciding to Build vs. Buy Software 

There are risks and benefits to both developing your own software and buying it from a vendor. The introduction of cloud-based software has, in many cases, tipped the scales toward buying, but for specialized industries and applications, that isn't always a given.  

There are five factors that should guide the decision.


Perhaps the most compelling "pro" for building software is that you have complete control of the product roadmap. Your organization gets to design every feature, incorporate your own vocabulary, and potentially integrate with the rest of your technology stack. 

With this level of control comes a great deal of responsibility. For example, you won't be able to benefit front the insights and feedback that customers provide to software vendors as their solutions improve overtime or the R & D that software vendors invest in their technologies.

If you license software from a vendor, you probably won't get 100% of what you want. Still, modern improvement applications are highly configurable, so you'll be able to get very close in many cases. Vendors also work closely with their customers and often respond to feature requests either as a custom project or as part of the standard product development process.


Many decision-makers experience sticker shock when they learn the price of commercial quality improvement software. The cost of the investment may make building something with existing development resources seem like an attractive option. Keep in mind, however, that you will bear all of the costs of home-built software. Those costs include the initial development, ongoing support, bug fixes, infrastructure upgrades, and platform migrations.

On the other hand, if you buy a solution, the vendor owns all costs associated with development, maintenance, and support. You'll pay predictable license fees, so your costs will be contained. All of the vendor's customers contribute to the expenses necessary to maintain, upgrade, and improve the solution. While the up-front costs are important, the crucial metric is long-term value.


Building software that works for a given purpose at the moment is one thing, but keeping it functional over the long term is another thing indeed. If you decide to build, be sure you have resources set aside for bug fixes, change requests, security assessments and upgrades, database maintenance, browser and device compatibility, and other unforeseen technology changes.

Commercial vendors take that burden off your hands. Cloud-based solutions are ideal in this regard because your team doesn't even need to worry about updates or upgrades; that's all taken care of seamlessly by the software provider.

Opportunity Cost

Financial concerns in a build vs. buy decision are crucial, but there is another type of cost to consider as well. If there is a commercial solution that your team is essentially replicating for your company's custom needs, it pays to ask what other project they could be doing instead. 

Buying software frees your team to focus on the strategic priorities and competitive opportunities of your organization. But, for most organizations, it pays to give up a bit of control and a feature or two to avoid diverting resources from the primary mission.

Time to Value

Building effective quality management software takes time. The timeline must include development, testing, deployment, and training. There will be unexpected obstacles and delays; there always are, no matter who is doing the work. How many opportunities for improvement will go unreported and unsolved while the software development plays out?

Modern commercial improvement management software is cloud-based, so implementation is really a matter of configuring the solution to meet your needs as closely as possible. With an engaged team, deployment is quick, and your team can be collecting opportunities for improvement right away. 

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Either Choice Involves Risk

Whichever road you take, it is wise to do some risk analysis upfront. Here are some questions to keep in mind: 


  • Are we prepared to take on the long-term costs and resource allocation necessary to support the software?
  • Do we have enough subject matter expertise to develop a solution that will meet our needs?
  • Is it OK to put off improvement automation while the solution is designed, built, tested, and deployed?
  • What are we putting off to do this project?


  • Are there any known needs that can't be met with the vendor's solution?
  • Do we trust that the relationship with the vendor will be positive and long-lasting?
  • Is there some reason why we must own the code?


Both Options Have Benefits

While we think that the best improvement software solutions are configurable to the degree that most organizations will get a better ROI by choosing to buy, there are benefits to both approaches.


  • You have complete control over the requirements.
  • You own the code.
  • You are not reliant on a third party for support or maintenance.
  • Your competitors can't take advantage of the same solution.


  • There is little time between the decision to buy and value.
  • Costs are predictable.
  • The vendor is responsible for maintenance, product upgrades, and support.
  • You don't have to worry about security and compliance.
  • You benefit from the experience and input of all the vendor's customers. 

[WEBINAR] Bottom-Up Improvement Software Demo


Most organizations will find they save time and money by implementing a commercial quality improvement application in the long term. After all, you're making the investment because you believe that the organization should be better equipped to implement positive change continuously. So why let the hassle of software development stand in the way?

Topics: Software, Continuous Improvement Software

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