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To Build or Buy: 3 Things IT Leaders Should Ask Themselves

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Read more about author John Milburn.

IT Service Management (ITSM) and business platforms have enabled enterprises to rapidly build and buy cloud solutions and applications that improve modern business. Platforms like ServiceNow, Salesforce, and Workday take the guesswork out of adopting new tools that can automate workflows, ease compliance and security woes, and smooth business operations. 

The numbers speak for themselves: Research from Acorio found that customers experienced a 195% ROI over three years using ITSM, ITOM, and performance analytics on ServiceNow, enabling $9.7 million savings in IT productivity improvements. While ITSM was once seen as its own entity, many organizations now rely on platforms to fuel their digital transformation initiatives, and there’s good reason why.

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For many, it’s the first place to look. ITSM platforms house large amounts of data and have their own large network of experienced developers to make that data actionable. For this reason, the case for making the most out of your existing platform investment often outweighs the alternative: acquiring siloed, one-off solutions that live outside of that ecosystem. 

But maximizing the value of your platform investment is only half the battle. Organizations will still need to decide whether to build or buy their software solutions within a given ITSM platform. While the build option is attractive to many, when one looks under the hood there are many benefits to buying an off-the-shelf solution. Here are three questions IT leaders should ask themselves when deciding whether to build or buy a software solution on the platform. 

What resources are required? 

Two fatal flaws of managing resources include underestimating the time it will take and overestimating the expertise needed to properly execute the project. This isn’t a one-and-done deal – one must consider the hidden costs of maintaining and improving the solution over time. This of course becomes harder to manage when you’re building the solution yourself. 

What often starts off as a three-month project can easily become a full-time team requiring technical expertise. In some cases, that’s a lot of focus on a particular initiative or business problem that may not be aligned with the company’s overall goals. Understanding the complexities and road bumps associated with a new build may make the upfront cost of off-the-shelf software optimal. 

What data, policies, and security measures are in place? 

While platforms are powerful business tools, they may not have the native ability to store appropriate data about users’ accounts and entitlements. This is a necessity for strong enterprise security. More importantly, even when data is stored effectively, the platform alone does not necessarily provide the policies required to make security consistent for all users. 

Let’s take identity security, for example. While factors like birthright access and approval policies are powerful weapons against permission sprawl, a platform doesn’t always make it easy to create these objects in a way that is repeatable and complementary to existing workflows. This typically results in duplication of efforts and exposes risk of variances in policy. If you opt to build a solution, the data, security, and specific policies rest mostly on you. 

How is connectivity to managed systems? 

Connectivity to up- and downstream systems is crucial for most business applications. While building a solution on a platform bakes some of this in from the start, you’re effectively using APIs for connectivity, which by nature entails significant development work. This requires time and technical expertise – resources organizations may or may not have access to. 

On the other hand, most commercially available solutions provide purpose-built connectors for key managed systems. This requires configuration, as opposed to development work. What you may save in time and headaches, you may lack in the customization that comes with building your own solution.  

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to building vs. buying a software solution, and much care should be given during the decision-making process. But one thing is clear: Whether you’re building or buying software, if it’s through your existing ITSM platform investment, you’re on the right path. But the choice of whether platform-delivered value comes from a commercial or DIY solution is yours to make.

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