The build or buy dilemma for a Field Force Automation solution

19 April, 2021

The context

After companies realize they can no longer manage their field operations manually with pen and paper, Excel spreadsheet, and WhatsApp groups they come to realize that they need a proper technology system to be able to scale and support their growth.

According to our experience, companies are often faced with the obligation to choose between these two options:

  • Iterating on what has been done so far by building internally leveraging the existing technical resources and adopting new technologies such as the so-called “no-code” tools.

  • Buying proper software off the shelf that can match their needs and at the same time has proven that it can scale.

Each alternative has its pros and cons that we will lay out below and that should help in the decision-making process.

1. The arguments for building internally

  • Better control of what you build. 

Building means in effect iterating on what has been done so far, by trying to introduce more technology-driven processes. When you develop your solution internally you can assume that you will be sure that whatever is developed exactly fits your business needs, while buying an off-the-shelf solution presents the risks of you having to adapt your work process to it. 

  • Quick feedback to improve the product. 

Another benefit of building with internal resources is that you are closer to the users and that the feedback on the solution will be quicker to pass between employees of the same company, compared to outsiders who would implement a solution, and that might not be as connected to your business and end-users.

  • Do not depend on external providers to run your business

When you do things on your own, it reduces the risk of dependency that comes with establishing a relationship with any external service provider.

  • Cheaper

As the technical resources are already on your payroll, or you plan to do corresponding recruitment, you might assume that the investment is less costly than paying an external entity. That line of thinking does not consider the opportunity cost, however, highlighted in the section below

2. The arguments for buying externally

  • Continuous update

Adopting a Software as a Service tool often comes with the commitment that the software will be improved regularly, at least every quarter, to fix bugs, introduce new features or new designs, etc. So the subscription model enables you to benefit from a solution that is constantly improving thanks to the feedback and usage of all its users.

  • Expert Support

SaaS comes with customer service governed by Service level agreements (SLAs) that give you some confidence that if you need it, you will get a quick response to solve your problem or get the right assistance. Dedicated account managers will also help to train you on how to manage the system and make the most of its functionalities.

  • Stay on par with the industry best practices

By using an off-the-shelf SaaS solution, you make sure you use what other competitors are using and you are using the industry standard, as it evolves, and do not become stuck with an out-of-date solution.

  • Quicken the time to market

Outsourcing the workload to an external provider, with a well-proven solution, often means you can deploy faster to the market because the solution is already developed, compared to an incertain internal development for which you control much less the delivery timeline. 

  • Focus on your core business. 

The opportunity cost of building internally is often underestimated, it takes the form of the time and energy of the senior leader being dragged on this, at the expense of running the core business.

  • Have a scalable solution

True it might be tempting to build something quickly, leveraging for example all the no-code tools that are out there, but you need to make sure that this solution can handle the usage growth of your business and is sustainable in the mid-term. What works with 10 users might not work with 1000 users and much larger databases. We have seen clients for example building an application with Appsheet realizing 6 or 12 months down the road that this was not customizable or strong enough to match their business requirements, and had to start the implementation all over again. Usually off the shelf solutions have proven their ability to handle such scale, so you have more confidence in that dimension.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are good reasons for each option, and deciding what works for your organization depends essentially on these factors:

  • What are the available technology resources available to build

  • What is your available budget

  • What are your business priorities

As a software provider, we believe there are good reasons for using a dedicated tool and that the risks associated with that solution can be mitigated with the following:

  • Drafting a clear scope of work to ensure the vendor can deliver an implementation in line with your business requirements

  • A clear timeline for deployment and pricing model, so that you can foresee the annual cost of the licenses as you grow

  • SLAs for the customer support in case you have any problem

  • Selecting a tool that is customizable enough, with the right documentation, so that you can make it evolve and adapt to your operational needs with time

Do you want to discover more? Read our article about 6 dimensions to consider when purchasing a FieldForce Automation solution

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