Build or buy technology solutions: What works best for retail?

[fa icon="calendar'] November 2, 2017 / by Scott Young

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Technology has infiltrated all aspects of retail — automation is changing the way we interact with customers, market products, send reports and manage cash. Keeping up with available technology keeps your stores competitive, but sometimes the thought of a significant initial investment is enough to hold you back — no matter how enticing the promised payoff. 

 

When you know you need to solve an issue in your business, it can be tempting to think you can come up with a workaround internally. If the idea of choosing, working with and paying for a solution from an established vendor is daunting, it might seem easier and cheaper to have a technology built by your own IT team.

 

What could go wrong? You’re already paying your IT team, you’ll be able to specify exactly the features you’re looking for, and you can adjust and update as needed, without having to go through anyone else. Right?

 

Not necessarily. Just because a homegrown IT solution might seem simpler initially, it takes time and resources your team might not have and runs the risk of causing more headaches (and sunk costs) than it’s worth. It’s important to examine the costs and potential pitfalls of each option carefully.

 

Many of your peers agree: In 2015, 39 percent of retail executives surveyed said they preferred to implement integrated offerings that allow standardization on a single solution, while just 13 percent said they preferred in-house solutions. Thirty-six percent said they wanted best-in-class solutions that could be integrated with other solutions, and 12 percent had their eye on cloud technology. Is your internal team prepared for the challenges of integration and SaaS development?

 

If you’re still thinking about implementing your own solution, it’s important to know what you’re up against. The Build vs. Buy: Tips to Avoid a DIY Disaster white paper walks through more than a dozen questions to ask yourself as you consider having your IT team build a custom solution, including:

  • What is the cost of your employees’ time to develop, test, and provide training and support for the solution?
  • What additional hardware will you need for data backups and disaster recovery?
  • When IT is spending time on a development project, what else aren’t they able to work on?
  • What kind of security implications does the application have?
  • Does your proposed solution have the necessary connectivity with other systems and devices in your infrastructure as they evolve?
  • Are you inadvertently building unwanted data silos for corporate?
  • Will this approach scale to meet future needs?

 

Most of all, it's important to remember you're in retail — not software development. Take some time to read Build vs. Buy and discuss the questions and rationale behind them with your IT team and executive stakeholders. Be honest about your goals and motivations, and choose the route that makes the most sense long-term. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel when expert solution providers are ready and willing to help you get rolling fast.

 

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Image: iStock

Scott Young
Scott Young

Scott brings his 25 years of software development leadership experience from Silicon Valley to Kansas City as Balance Innovations' EVP of Product Development.