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Off the Shelf vs. Do-it-yourself Technology.

How do you know if a technology solution helps or hurts you?

In the age of technology we live in where new tools are being developed all the time, there is no standard platform that everyone uses. Be it project management tools, Content Management Systems (CMS) for websites, or data gathering and storage systems, we meet clients and partners that all seem to have their own solutions they’ve adopted. Sometimes those solutions are scattered between many platforms and usually the way they keep track is heavily dependent on someone’s tribal knowledge.

We recently encountered a client project in which we had an extremely short time window to complete a pretty hefty website project. The question posed: Do we use an out of the box technology, or build from scratch?

This question got us thinking in a bigger way about many technology solutions beyond websites. Today we explore the ups and downs of off the shelf technologies vs. custom solutions you build yourself.

What is off the shelf software?

Off the shelf or  “out of the box” software refers to a prebuilt technology that solves some specific solutions a lot of people have. These come in all shapes and sizes from website management to project management. The one thing they all have in common is they make an otherwise complicated, tedious, or manual process easy and manageable. They also provide a concrete foundation for your team to work with.

An example would be WordPress. Though it offers lots of flexibility on how you build your website, it’s an out of the box content management system. When built correctly, it offers an easy way to make changes to your website’s content. Rather than requiring a web developer to change the code for you.

What is a DIY technology solution?

A do-it-yourself (DIY) technology is just that, something you do yourself. An example would be managing contacts in a spreadsheet rather than a customer relationship manager (CRM). While this might technically “work”, there is a lot of labor that goes into managing it. Also, as your team grows it can become disorganized and overwhelming. Imagine 10 business development people all trying to edit the same spreadsheet, or worse, creating their own. Que the chaos.

DIY could be much more complicated than just a spreadsheet. If you are fortunate to have your own development team, you could possibly create your very own CMS, CRM, etc. that fits your exact needs.

Pros + Cons of DIY

There are two types of DIY technology. The first type is the seemingly cheap and quick solutions you may see in start-ups. The second type is the expensive custom development you see in large corporations, or in companies with a dev team. In both cases you’ll find there are enormous costs in the continual management of these technologies. In the first type, they rarely scale with your team and aren’t sustainable long term due to the constant time investment to maintain it. Not to mention the person who implemented the system could leave at any point. In the second type you’ll not only be paying for maintenance and internal support, you’ll be paying for every new feature and old portions of your custom solution will inevitably accrue technical debt. ( Not sure what “tech debt” is? Check out our post we wrote on it.) Think too about integration with other systems. Will your custom solution at any point need to talk to another system? If so, the same time and money costs apply.

The pros? In DIY you are creating a system that works for you. It’s custom, even if it’s not always efficient. DIY solutions can work well if you have the technical expertise on your team to sustain it.

Pros + Cons of Out Of The Box

A ton of the work is done for you with out of the box. A development team on someone else’s dime has invested time and research into a solution you can simply plug into. Even if you are a small team, it is more beneficial to put in place an infrastructure that can grow as your team does. Out of the box solutions are intended to be streamlined and help make that growth less stressful. Though these technologies can feel less flexible at times, you’ll be thankful for the restrictions when your team of 20 is doing things the exact same way.

Most out of the box technologies are well thought out and come with everything you’ll need now and later. It might feel like you’re spending more up front but your total annual savings will outweigh the initial expense in the long-term.

We’ve often heard the argument that out of the box solutions aren’t worth their cost because organizations “don’t need all the functionality that the system provides.” For some, that may be true and a simpler solution would work just fine. However, if the goal is growth and you don’t have a dev team, more features may be ideal for you to grow into.

Our Out Of The Box Solution

Looking for an out of the box solution to replace your DIY technology? Enter VSG Marketing’s automated marketing system (AMS). An out of the box solution for email marketing, customer relationship management, landing page creation, social media management, and so much more. Don’t worry we can import your google sheet…