Should you build your own booking software or buy off the shelf?
The first step in the process is to conduct a complete and honest assessment of business needs, internal team and hardware infrastructure.
While a business might have already decided to adopt booking software, the first step in the process is to validate the need for the software thoroughly. There are many questions an business needs to ask its internal team in order to complete the validation process.
- Does your business sell a complex product or service?
- Can your business define the need for booking software?
- Is there a need for the software in one department or across many?
- Will the software be global?
- Will your booking software solution need to cater for payments?
- Will there be a need for product purchasing for session passes and vouchers?
- What are the business requirements that the software will address?
- Will the business need the booking software solution to be integrated into other software?
The validation step is important to ensure that the booking software implementation addresses all of the business needs and can accurately define the success of the software once it is implemented. Too many business are focused on the new software features and rush into implementation without formally identifying the need for the software across the business. This causes unforeseen delays during the implementation phase and risks the successful adoption of the software.
Businesses need to examine whether booking software is extensively used by their competitors and across their industry. Asking whether implementing booking software would give their businesses a competitive advantage is paramount. If a business would be the first one in an industry to have an booking solution, then this reduces the urgency to build a highly-customised software solution. If there is market saturation with booking solutions, then the decision to build or buy would assess other factors.
Common sense states that the opportunity to customise software is a compelling reason why it is better to build a software solution rather than buying off the shelf software from a vendor. We believe that this thinking is out of date. Most off the shelf software is cloud based with new versions released every few days rather than every few months. Every new release provides improvements and functionality from all their customers that no one business could ever address with a custom software solution. Most businesses would do better with a combination of buying off the shelf software and customising it using an API with their developers.
One of the biggest reasons to build a software solution is because a business already has in-house IT team with software developers standing by. These developers will build, implement and maintain the booking software solution. This reasoning is very often a completely valid. Problem solved, right? Not so fast. Before deciding to build the booking software, businesses need to ask themselves the following questions.
- Do your developers have experience building a booking software solution or a similar type solution?
- Do your developers possess the skills necessary to build, implement, maintain and support a custom booking software solution?
- If your team starts building the booking software solution, will this take them away from developing another software solution – one that might be mission-critical to your business?
- If one or more of your software developers were to leave, would your business be able to support the solution indefinitely?
- Can your team design the application and the architecture, including the front-end and the back-end.
- Does your IT team have the experience in building a solution that is both scalable and extensible?
If you answered no to one or more of these questions, then it might make more sense to buy rather than build your own booking software solution.
Building an in-house booking software solution requires certain architecture and hardware requirements. It is important to identify and document these requirements before your business decides to build the software, including:
- An information security strategy
- New network and technology infrastructure with the costs
- Existing systems that the booking software will be interfacing with Customer data requirements
- Additional hardware and network expenditures
It is important to review these capital expenditures in the context of global cloud trends. Many businesses are moving their software and data to the cloud to reduce capital costs and increase speed, security and efficiency.
Determining how reliant on the cloud the business is can be a major determinant in the software choice.
- While it might make sense to build the software now, will it have made sense next year?
- Three years from now?
Making the decision to build or buy
It is vital to review the process a business uses when it comes to deciding whether to build or buy. Many businesses have an ad-hoc and undocumented process while sophisticated businesses have a documented process that addresses risk, tests implementation and provides an evaluation process to improve decision-making. If the process is unsophisticated, then it is likely that your business will make either the wrong choice or the right choice with unintended consequences.
This phase compares the build option with a buy option (an outside vendor). It is essential during this phase to accurately consider both options with equal consideration and not favor one side or the other.
There are many questions to ask your preferred software vendor and your IT team as you evaluate their capabilities. Not every question is applicable for both groups.
- Has this vendor or your IT team built a booking software solution or related solution?
- Does this vendor have a proven track record implementing successful booking software solutions?
- Does this booking software trace all actions within the system and can that data be integrated with other customer data
- Can this vendor provide examples of existing customers
- Can this vendor track staff capacity and productivity?
- Can this vendor’s booking solution or your IT’s proposed solution be able to handle the volume of customer bookings you need daily?
- Does your software API allow a business to integrate existing solutions easily?
- Do you have deep experience with software implementation (including testing, training, etc.)?
Choosing the right booking software solution to buy can be difficult. You will need to review the features needed and match them with the vendor offering. These features might include:
- Activity bookings
- REST API to allow customisation done by own developers if needed
- Ability to take payment
- Integrate with payment providers
- Access to all the data for reporting
- White labeled solution
- Micro site or embedded on the main website
- Ability to handle selling products
- Grant levels of permissions to different users
- Business dashboard for managing bookings
- Email and SMS notifications
- Integration with other products like Dropbox
Booking software is incredibly complex due to the vast number of variables to consider. For example, an business with 10,000 employees using the software across 100 locations will easily have millions of variables to consider. If these employees work at multiple locations, then the complexity just doubled or tripled. Large, complex businesses often need large, complicated booking systems that can handle a large volume of bookings.
Software adoption is a critical factor for project success. It takes time (and resources) to train the staff and promote the availability of software to your customers. If your new and existing customers don’t use the software, and even if every other element is successful, then the software project will be deemed a failure.
- Testing the solution
- Deploying the software
- Training staff
- Promoting availability of the booking software to prospects and customers
- Ongoing software updates
The cost of building or buying software is a major consideration. While there are many costs to consider, these are the most important:
Build Costs: Building software is typically more expensive in the first year, and there is a risk that it could be more expensive over the life of the project. Most off the shelf software implementations are subject to an audit of project requirements that cover every eventuality the project may face, including sometimes rationalising the requirements to avoid scope-creep and unnecessary development work.
Opportunity Costs: If an IT team is building one software solution, then the team can’t develop another software product.
Unexpected Costs: There is very high risk for additional costs when building the software due to unforeseen development needs, unfamiliarity with the particulars, scope creep and additional hardware requirements. Improper scoping at the outset can be compounded post-launch as employees grasp that additional resources are necessary to maintain, upgrade, troubleshoot, test and deploy updates to the software.
Buy Costs: While total buy costs vary across vendors, at bookitLive for example, we typically charge an implementation fee, an ongoing annual fee depending on the number of locations and the provided services.
Time is a critical component for deciding whether to build or buy. Businesses need to evaluate many factors with respect to time.
- Time to Research: Businesses need time to decide if they want to build or buy.
- Time to Implement: It is most likely that the time to implement will be shorter when choosing to buy rather than to build. And in many cases dramatically shorter. Booking software can be bought and implemented in as little as 1-2 weeks; building software can be much longer.
- Time to Adopt: Building software takes a great deal of time to ensure successful adoption. Businesses that do not have this time available should not pursue it.
There are many risks with building or buying software. We have identified some of the most important.
- Costs: Build costs vary from organization to organization while buy costs are fairly predictable.
- Time: Build time will depend on resources while buy time to implement will be fairly predictable.
- Unable to Complete: There is a risk that when building a scheduling software solution, the project is unable to be completed either because it is too difficult or takes too much time to complete. There is little risk of this when buying a software solution.
Requirement Need: When buying an off-the-shelf solution, there is a good chance that the software vendor has encountered any-unforeseen requirement with another customer and already has features addressing the requirement in their service.
Responsive: Off-the-shelf software will be more responsive than homegrown software.
Obsolescence: Homegrown software solutions can quickly become outdated and irrelevant with no solution to meet new demands. At bookitLive for example, our platform is proven to be fit for purpose, future-proof, reliable, secure and tested to the highest standards.
Software Overload: The average IT staff team is managing hundreds of software programs, making it difficult to cope with this pace of change. It is often difficult for them to build an entirely new software let alone manage the software and keep it updated.
Choosing to build or buy booking software is not an easy decision, but successful implementation should result in profitable customer engagements while allowing your business to maximise staff and resource utilisation.
Building software can be a successful endeavor but comes with many risks that may come to fruition.
Buying booking software can reduce pressure on valuable developer staff time and decrease the length of time for software
implementation and adoption.