Should you Pay for a Service or Do it Yourself?

3 Criteria to Consider

We all face situations at work where there is a clear inefficiency in our work process that can only be fixed by paying for a 3rd party service or developing a homegrown solution. The situation that causes this inefficiency varies from cases to case, but the decision making criteria typically comes down to common business factors like investment and resource allocation. Each criteria is weighted differently and ultimately a decision making framework like SWOT analysis should be conducted in order to make the right decision. I won’t say how you should make your decisions, but I will share with you how I have approached this scenario in the past and the major themes that I considered in order to make the right judgement call.

Customization and Use Cases

A major factor in your decision analysis should be the customizability of the tool and the amount of requirements that it solves. For many people, there is a hope that an all-in-one solution is available for every possible need, but in reality there isn’t a tool on the market that excels in providing this type of flexibility. In most cases, if this type of solution were available, then it would be commonly found as a custom built tool from a 3rd party provider. This would require enterprise-level payment and ultimately lead to an invoice that would be more expensive than the value that is generated by using the tool. As a result, my philosophy is that if you are trying to find a multifaceted tool, then it is better to either build a customized solution for each use case or find services that excel in servicing one requirement and apply the same methodology to each use case.

Frequency of Use

Another factor to take into consideration is utility versus cost, or in other words, the frequency that the tool would be used in relation to pricing. In order to properly analyze this factor, two areas need to be assessed. The first area is to quantify the amount of times, on a monthly basis, that there will be planned use. This analysis helps to gauge personal utility and better quantify the resources that will be freed up as a result of using the tool. The second area is to determine if the tool will be used by an individual or if it will be incorporated across a team or organization. This factor determines the importance of finding a solution in a timely manner and if communication needs to be established in the decision making process.

The best way to conduct this analysis is to open up a line of communication with other members of the organization to see if others would find a use for such a tool. If they do, then analyze their potential use cases and how they would value such a tool. If there is a major need, then it is typically best to expedite the decision process and use a 3rd party service, but if it is minor and/or will just be used by yourself, then I would recommend building it on your own as the value that I will soon mention outweighs what you will gain by using a 3rd party platform.

Personal Bandwidth

Finally, it comes down to personal bandwidth and the time you are willing to spend learning a new language or building an application that can make workflows more efficient. My personal belief is that the value you receive from the time spent learning and building a tool for your job will not only increase your skill set, but also be extremely valuable to your peers. Saving money, while freeing up resources for your team and organization is one that all parties involved will love and appreciate. You might have to spend weekends and time after work on it, but the results driven by the personal investment is priceless. The only instances where it might not be worth an attempt is if the scenario is on a scale that would require variable costs like server maintenance or complex infrastructures. These types of situations are rare, but require money and more effort than one person can handle on their own, so it is best use a 3rd party provider to solve this issue.

Summary

In summary, there are three points that I highly recommend you consider when deciding it you should pay for a 3rd party service or build it yourself.

  1. Customization and Use cases
  2. Frequency of use
  3. Personal Bandwidth

There is no perfect answer to the various questions that you will come up with when analyzing these themes, but by using this framework you will be forced to gather and analyze more information about the situation than previously thought. All of these insights will increase the likelihood that you will make the right decision and ultimately make your personal and organizational workflows more efficient.