The build or buy debate in software engineering

To build or to buy: that is the question plaguing countless developers, project leaders, and IT managers. When it comes to software solutions, it can be difficult to choose between the flexibility of building your own software, or the speed of buying a tried and tested third party option.

Whether you’re a techie or not, the build or buy debate is one that will crop up whenever technology problems arise. Building offers customisation and ownership; buying offers ease and reliability. Both options can prove expensive.

So, is it better to build or buy? To help you decide, here’s a handy guide to the pros and cons of building vs buying your software solutions.


In the build or buy debate, building your own software sounds attractive. Why pay someone to do something you could do yourself? Building your own software means you don’t have to be beholden to a third-party vendor.

However, it also means knowing exactly what solution you require, and finding employees with the skills needed to design and develop it. Building your own software is more challenging, but is it worth it?


  • Customisable

When it comes to the build or buy question, one of the most attractive pros for building your own software is the customisability. The software you end up with will be bespoke to you. It won’t have any extraneous features or functionality, and it’s tailor-made to suit your needs to the letter.

  • Greater control

Building your own software means total tenure. You have greater control over user options, security measures, and how the solution gets updated or maintained. Plus, this complete ownership also gives you the option to sell your software later down the line.

  • In-house input

A great aspect of building your own software is that your employees – the ones that will inevitably use the software – get a voice in deciding what features are needed and ultimately built. Rather than jamming a square peg in a round hole, you’re listening to your team to create a unique answer to their problem.

  • Assurance of integration

You might be working with legacy systems, or with other bespoke software. It isn’t always easy to find software that plays well with these tools. So, building your own solution means you can ensure out of the box integration with any existing software and processes already in use.


  • Lacks scalability

In the build or buy debate, you should always think about future resource drain. A solution built in-house is almost always less future-proof than a quality third-party solution. Software vendors have dedicated teams constantly keeping the software up to date and ever-improved. In-house, this isn’t as attainable.

  • Costly to make and maintain

Building your own software is expensive. It could be months or even years before your software is ready. All that time you need to pay your development team, as well as any extra costs that come from not having the functionality the software will provide.

  • Vulnerable to the sunk-cost fallacy

Once you get into building your new software, it can become increasingly difficult to back out if it doesn’t work. It’s known as the sunk cost fallacy. Reluctance to accept that the time and effort taken to try to make your own software has been wasted means more costs are sunk into trying to make a failed attempt work.


The other side of the build or buy debate is purchasing third-party software. Third-party software is often an out-of-the-box solution. (Meaning you download it, press go, and start using right away.)

Third party solutions can also come at varying levels of usability, which adds another layer of difficulty to the build or buy deliberation. Some third-party software is more customisable than others, and some acts as a platform to create your own processes.

Not all vendors – or solutions – are the same, and with buying comes the challenge of finding the right solution from the right vendor.


  • Fast deployment

Time is a key factor when battling with the build or buy debate. Because you don’t need to build the software first, you can have the functionality of the software much faster. Usually, all it takes to get going is to install/log in to your new program and you can get stuck in.

  • Ongoing maintenance

As computing power and security evolves, a third-party solution will be maintained to evolve with it. This dedicated focus makes the solution more durable than one built in-house. The product will continually grow and integrate across platforms, with a specialist team supporting the product so you don’t have to.

  • Updates and new features

Software development is never finished, and third-party providers will want to stay competitive. So as well as keeping up with maintenance, a third party solution will often be updated with new features and functionality.

  • Customer service

Customer service is a key consideration in the build or buy debate. If something does go wrong with your software, a third-party solution will come with service and support to help fix any issues. This alleviates some of the pressure that comes when technical problems do arise.

  • Tried and tested

Being tried and tested means that there will likely be fewer unforeseen complications. The vendor specialises in this field, and has become successful from the strength of their solution. They’re the expert for this particular technical need, and they’ve become so by implementing smooth solutions countless times before.


  • Less customisable

The most prevalent con to buying-in your software is the fact that it’s less customisable than if you build it yourself. While many third-party software solutions enable some customisation, the solution won’t be custom built for you. Plus, it can sometimes accrue more cost to customise a third-party solution.

  • Less control

You have less control over the use and update timeline of your solution. Updates, user volume and available functionality of the solution are controlled by the vendor. All the key decisions on the software’s features and future are out of your hands.

  • Unneeded features take up space

Because third-party software is unlikely to be bespoke to you, you may end up paying for features that you don’t need or use. If you only need a few core actions from a product, you don’t want to be lumbered with the price tag (not to mention the complex interface) of a full feature-suite.

  • Could be more vulnerable to hackers

Bigger software companies may be a more desirable target for hackers, which could leave you vulnerable. However, this can be combatted by ensuring the vendor and their solution has strong security features.

To build or buy?

So, should you opt for out of the box or DIY? With these pros and cons, hopefully you can come a little closer to deciding which side you’ll fall on in the build or buy debate.

If you decide to buy in your software solution, be sure to take your time to weigh up the different vendors and solutions out there. Criteria like security, pricing methods, support options and suitability should all be considered.

If you choose to build your solution, recognise the time, effort and costs it will take. Building is good when used to complement other programs, (even third-party ones), or for smaller, simple software solutions.

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