Build vs Buy Discussions

March 8, 2022
During the recent SIA Executive Forum, there were two sessions dedicated to Build vs Buy and several conversations I happened to sit in on.

I have an extensive background in software engineering, and up until 2020 was the Founder and CEO of a successful mobile app and infrastructure software development company. Based on what I observed, I felt that there were a few important points not being addressed.

Here are some key points to consider if you are thinking of going the “Build” path:

  • IP ownership is the most important of my points. Keep in mind that unless the developer(s) or development team are W2 full-time employees, the question of who owns the software being created is not clear, unless you specify it in the contract. You should add a provision for intellectual property ownership, just to be safe.

  • If it’s a small task, it doesn’t matter that much if you are hiring an independent developer or a contracting company. However, if it’s a bigger, more complex project with integrations, you would be better off hiring a local development company. The PROs: A development company will have a development manager, project manager, senior developer(s), all built into the cost. The CONs of course is that the development company will most likely cost a lot more.

  • PRO TIP: It’s tempting to build all the functionality and integrations for the project all at once, but it’s much safer to use building blocks. Get the infrastructure and very basics working then build on that. That will control cost and you can use and tweak the functionality sooner, probably leading to changes and improvements that you likely wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

  • Component Ownership/Licensing: Be careful here as well. Modern web and mobile development will certainly use 3rd party components and libraries to build the software, make sure you purchase the licenses under your company, not the development company.

  • Font Licensing: If you are building functionality that will be viewed by external users, this includes websites and mobile apps, make sure that all fonts used either have a paid license or are free public domain fonts. Trust me, font owners are constantly using website crawlers and tracking new app releases in search of illegal use of their fonts. If found, they will sue.

  • Source Code & Access:

  • Developer-owned Internal Source/Libraries: This is a tough one - Your independent developer or a development firm will certainly have their own components or libraries they use to build all their apps/software, yours will be no exception. Make sure you spell out the right to have the source or binaries needed to build the software even if the developer or development firm are no longer involved.

  • Github Source Repositories: Most development teams will have a central source code repository for your project, make sure you are given access to the project repositories from the very beginning, and if your internal team has the know-how, have them mirror/clone the repository. This is so that (knock on wood this will never happen) if there is a contract dispute, you are not left hanging with no access to your source code.

  • 3rd Party Services: Lastly, be sure to have access to 3rd party services like Amazon S3, Google Cloud, SQL/Mongo/Other Database, and any one of a dozen 3rd party services your software may use. This is just for your protection and completeness. If you only have access to your source code but no access to the database, storage, or other services, you are not in complete control of your IP.

  • I hope this helps if you choose to build instead of buy.