Make or Buy? Building Your Own Custom Cloud-Based Software

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Jean-Luc Vanhulst
Jean-Luc Vanhulst



custom-cloud-softwareThe great thing about cloud-based software as service is that it’s easy to try out, evaluate and start using when it meets your needs. No investments in hardware or licenses are needed — just sign up and go. From Web-based email to bookkeeping and timekeeping to CRM, everything is available in the cloud. And for almost every problem, there is more than one solution to choose from. Every cloud application has its strengths and weaknesses and comes with a price tag. Salesforce, for example, is a high-end CRM that costs at least $25 per person per month, while Highrise CRM is $25 for up to six people per month. For six people, that is the difference between $1,800 and $300 per year.

But what if none of the available products meet your needs? When does it make sense to develop your own software? Based on over 25 years of experience with software development, here is my checklist:

  • You have developed a method, process or workflow that is unique to your industry. It sets you apart from the rest. It’s why you’re different, and it’s why the standard products available don’t cut it for you. It’s your intellectual property (IP). For us, the unique process is our Triple A Methodology. It’s our take on PR 2.0, handling internal workflow and ROI reporting to our clients. Another example is a financial services client of ours that developed a “Blue Pages” application that captures its philosophy on investing.
  • You have people in your organization that are available to spend time designing, testing and implementing the software you want developed. You need at least one businessperson that can champion the development.
  • You are willing to go with an “agile” approach. Working in short (six week) cycles, you can set modest goals for actual working versions. Once version 1.0 is up, you must go design and plan version 2.0. This means version 1.0 will only have a fraction of the functionality you have in mind.
  • Keep in mind the first rule of software development that my computer science professor taught me: Software development takes twice as long as you think, even if you know the first rule of software development. Be ready to keep the system updated (i.e., costing money) for years.

If the above considerations don’t scare you off, you might be encouraged by the fact that cloud-based computing has made many aspects of custom software development easier. It’s cheap to host — just make sure to always have at least two environments: a test version and a production version. New versions are deployed on the test environment first and, once approved, are rolled out in productions.

A good way to see how far along you are in your thought process is to see if you can visualize your software — something that you can also do in the cloud for free. Go to and design the first page. Then, make a link to a detail page. Being able to create detailed mockups for your software is another critical success factor when working with developers!

Remember: Always keep the first law of software development in mind — it’s going to be more expensive than you thought. It took us three months to create version 1.0, and even now, a year and several versions later, we’re only halfway through the processes that we want to automate. However, it’s paid off — Triple A has become our only workflow and reporting tool, and our clients love it, too. So ... mission accomplished.

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