That business problem or performance goal that’s stressing you out lately? Chances are its solution hinges on technology. As demands on your time, budget and business relationships mount, your only chance of staying ahead of competitors without losing your mind is through automation.
Shifts in buyer behavior demand automation
You already know automation is a no-brainer in terms of efficiencies: fewer errors, costs, delays, and manual tasks. Just as important, it’s what customers now expect. Our collective digital habit, spoiled by the likes of Facebook, Google, Netflix and Amazon, means buyers now crave the same level of personalization, speed and instant gratification, rewarding vendors who provide those kinds of experiences, and abandoning vendors that don’t.
That behavioral shift isn’t something to take lightly: Customer experiences now sway buying decisions more than price, cost, functionality or other brand attributes, say researchers.
For businesses, this translates into growing pains but also tremendous opportunities to outperform competitors: Nearly three out of four customer service reps say managing their workload is their biggest challenge (Win the Customer), and businesses lose nearly $11,000 per year, per employee, because of subpar communications and collaboration (Mitel).
No wonder: Employees report spending 50% of their time searching for documents manually, averaging 18 minutes per document (M-Files). That number climbs to 68.6% when you add communications and collaboration tasks (CIO Insight).
While it’s easy to see the benefits of automation, implementing it isn’t so clear-cut. Should you build a custom solution? Buy something off-the-shelf? Tweak a prepackaged solution? Those can be hazy, difficult decisions.
Ensuring your tech investment is a profitable one
The indecision, hemming and hawing that comes with choosing the right technology boils down to this: Which solution will not waste my time and dollars?
Put simply, what separates profitable tech investments from poor ones is this: Profitable technology solves real business and customer experience problems, explains Inverse-Square.
Those problems include:
- Manual processes
- Spreadsheets galore
- Delays in service delivery
- Duplicate activities
- Biased decisions
- Human errors
- Performance inconsistencies
- Lack of personalization or relevance
- Quality issues
- Discerning opinions from facts
- Too many hoops to jump through for simple tasks or answers
- Cumbersome reporting
- Missing, confusing or unhelpful data, and more.
What about those times when a technology tool backfires? You’ve been there: Malfunctions, irrelevancy or unexpected complications lead employees to protest, abandon the tool, and return to the old way of doing things. How do you keep that from happening?
It turns out you can predict which technology will end up unused or viewed as a burden by two failure indicators:
- The organization didn’t take the time to understand the problem the technology is meant to solve and the ramifications of that problem.
- Employees don’t understand how using the solution will ease their work or the lives of customers.
Correct those oversights and you’ve just multiplied your chances of success.
3 Choices + 3 Steps
As you consider which problems you’re trying to solve, you have three choices:
- Build custom software (or customize an existing solution)
- Buy an off-the-shelf solution
- Do nothing
Three steps should steer your decision:
- Assess the problems you want the software to solve
- Evaluate existing processes
- Understand the financial and resource implications
Which option is best for your situation?
Bob Baird, founder of Inverse-Square, an Indianapolis-based custom software development firm, breaks down lessons he’s learned from helping organizations pinpoint their best software solution:
Reasons to Build
- Your employees spend a good chunk of their time manually entering data.
- Your business has specialized needs.
- You have two or more systems that fit your needs, but you’d like to connect them.
- Custom software will give you a competitive advantage.
- You don’t want to overhaul operations to match software capabilities.
Reasons to Buy
- Your needs are common and solutions are already available.
- You’re willing to overhaul business operations to match software capabilities.
- Your monthly budget is less than $1,500 for software.
- You need to implement new software immediately.
Reasons to Do Nothing
- Employees currently spend minimal or no time on manual or duplicate processes.
- You do not plan on growing your business over the next few years.
- Errors, delays, miscommunication or quality slips don’t exist in your business.
- Current processes, turnaround and operational costs are optimized for your business now and in the future.
Leaning toward customization?
Bob notes a few considerations for custom software development:
- Don’t start with a feature list. Focus on understanding the problems you want to solve first. Unlike bullet points on the back of software packaging, your initial idea of the perfect design may be flawed.
- Customization doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. If you love aspects of an existing solution but need to customize parts of it, know that many pre-packaged software can be adapted through APIs.
- Building software requires an upfront cost. It’s not necessarily a higher-cost; you’ll just pay upfront to own it instead of licensing it.
- Custom software requires upfront planning. Nothing new here, but it’s worth remembering upfront planning beats the heck out of backend troubleshooting when the software doesn’t perform as expected and employees are rebelling against it.
Hire or outsource?
The software development industry is highly specialized, and assembling a business-ready web app typically requires three different skill sets. Your first (and perhaps biggest) consideration, then, is money: Can you afford to hire all of these specialists?
For added perspective, consider that the average pay of a junior .NET developer, including benefits, is $80,000/year, and you need a couple more specialists to round out your team. By contrast, outsourcing your project to a fully-staffed software development firm would cost you roughly $120/hour, shares Bob.
“The crux of the matter is this,” Bob concludes: “Will your choice to build or buy make your business unique and more desirable to customers, or force you to change your business to fit a software?”