Skuid recently launched, the Opinionated Experience, aka The OX, a show where we discuss how to drive business impact through software, human-centered design, digital transformation, and more with leaders who want to get stuff done.
Whether you’re a product owner, an operational leader, or an IT professional, this show is for you. Want to build enterprise software that works and works well? The OX is about being bold – and opinionated – in your design, processes, and how you work in the digital world.
Episode one is hosted by Matt Brown, Skuid’s senior Manager of Product Marketing, and Wade Callison, Chief Growth Officer. Their topic? “Build, buy, or double down: How to make technology decisions in economic headwinds.” In this episode, Matt and Wade dive into the challenges currently facing operations leaders and the age-old software dilemma: build, buy, or double down?
Watch the episode here, or read on for our in-depth recap.
“Economic headwinds” are blowing
Today’s businesses are navigating a number of obstacles, and they’re managing it all with limited resources. “This is not going to be a hot take in this moment, but we're all being asked to do more with less. We're all being asked to have tighter budget constraints as well as to deliver more,” says Wade.
Matt agrees. “It certainly feels like we're in a bit of a pressure cooker right now, I think, in terms of just macroeconomic environment and what everyone's facing,” he adds. He also brings up another trend that’s putting even more on many leaders’ plates: the shift in software decision-making from IT to line-of-business. What was once the purview of the CIO is increasingly in the hands of operational leaders. “Gartner's talked about this for years, about how the shift of budgets going from IT to the line of business. We're seeing that more and more, and we're seeing a bunch of shadow IT. We're seeing a bunch of technology decisions being made at the line of business level,” Wade says.
Against the backdrop of economic challenges, budget constraints, and mounting responsibilities, GSD leaders are now facing that critical decision around software: Should we build, buy, or double down?
Weighing the options
When considering a budget-related decision, the first factor most people think of is cost. While important, it’s certainly not the only one. According to Wade, it’s helpful to evaluate the “build/buy/double down” dilemma in terms of “opinionated” versus “organic.” “I think that the framework that we've found to be most effective is to think about this on this continuum of opinionated and organic, and really thinking about, how do you have applications that are opinionated? SaaS applications are opinionated. They do a certain thing,” says Wade.
“Really good business applications are opinionated.” Wade Callison
“And then on the organic side, you need things that evolve and move and respond to the stimulus of your environment so that you have something that over time grows with you as an organization,” he adds.
With the opinionated-organic lens in mind, Wade and Matt dive into the pros and cons of each option.
Option 1: Build
By selecting this option, operational leaders commit to building the software in-house with their team. While this might seem like the cheaper option, that’s almost certainly not the case.
“The problem that we see all too often is, is that the cost of building it is a fraction of the cost of ownership,” Wade says. After all, you’re doing everything yourself at the cost of your team’s time. There’s also the timeline to consider. “What ends up happening is you start a build process, and then sometimes it's six, nine, 12 months, 18 months, until you get the results. And if the last four years has taught us anything, the world moves faster than 12 and 18 months development cycles,” says Wade. “The business thought they knew what to tell you at the beginning. What they get back in 12 to 18 months isn't what they expected.” Even using agile development, you risk creating something that no longer has as much value to the organization as you initially thought.
However, the main benefit of the “build” option is control. “Build is an attractive option for a lot of people because they get to control their own destiny. I have my own developers, I have my own roadmap, my own backlog, and I control all of that,” Wade says. If you’re looking to create an opinionated experience, this degree of ownership can be a major advantage.
So, when is “build” the right choice? According to both Matt and Wade, it’s when what you’ve got in mind will be a differentiator for your business. “If you have something that's unique to your business and it's your differentiator, consider building it. If that opinionated experience is not offered by anyone else in the market, you should build it,” Wade says.
If you go with “build,” then you have yet another decision to make: how you will build it. Matt recommends building quickly and failing quickly. “When I look back at our customers, some of my favorite customers are ones that are just driving innovation; they're getting every bit of value out of the technology. It's that they actually love productive failure. They love finding things out fast,” he says. “Speed is really important because you're going to be wrong, so can you find out quickly how wrong you are, and then turn that into iteration and findings. That's great.”
Option 2: Buy
Under what circumstances should GSD leaders decide to buy a piece of software? Pros of this option include a much shorter implementation timeline and far fewer team resources than building something new. On the other hand, your team loses control of the software’s roadmap. Then there’s the risk of “SaaS sprawl” and conflicting processes.
“While you may buy a SaaS product, three or four of them that sort of sit adjacent to each other, over time they start to encroach on each other in a way that makes it very difficult for you as a business to say, ‘Well, there's a dashboard here, dashboard here. What's my process for this? What's my process for that?’” explains Wade.
Plus, software costs can add up.“The cost of your tech stack, especially in the line of business, gets onerous very, very quickly,” Wade says. Matt agreed, recommending a “buy smart” approach focusing on specific core functionality. “There's almost an element where you pick your pillars. You shouldn't have too many pillars,” says Matt. “Then it's a matter of finding other tools and modules that can work in an ecosystem together.”
The bottom line? Build if it’s a differentiator, buy if it’s not. “if you're thinking about SaaS, if it's a commodity, just buy that. If it's something that's a utility, buy that,” Wade says.
“If it's unique to your business, don't trust it to someone else's roadmap.” Wade Callison
Option 3: Double down
What exactly does “double down” mean when it comes to software? Wade defines it as “taking technologies that you've already purchased and that have leverage ability and either, one, telling your folks to suck it up and just use it, or two, trying to make do with what comes out of the box.”
This option is particularly appealing if you’re already locked into an expensive contract with a specific software solution or if moving platforms would take too long. However, the con is that these existing tools aren’t tailored to your specific needs. “I think the challenge here is platform products,” says Wade. “They all come with abundance of electricity and screens and UIs that are supposed to work for just about anyone. The fact is, is they don't work for anyone, right? They're not built for your business, my business, the next person's business.”
These “neutral” experiences are often inefficient. Fortunately, tools like Skuid can help you improve what is frequently the biggest pain point: UX/UI. According to Wade, “60% of the value of digital transformation comes from the UI/UX.” If you can improve the design and experience of your existing software, then doubling down is the smart choice. In this case, you can make your tools work for you—and not the other way around—by enhancing the value of your current systems.
“60% of the value of digital transformation comes from the UI/UX.” Wade Callison
Making the right choice
Ultimately, the right decision for your organization comes down to your specific situation. However, the advice Matt and Wade shared can be a helpful jumping-off point to a productive discussion and, ultimately, a smart and strategic choice.
We hope you enjoyed the first episode of the OX! Subscribe to our Youtube for more discussions on topics that matter to today’s GSD leaders. If there’s a topic you want us to cover, let us know on our social channels. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.