Build vs Buy: Mobile Workforce Management Software
Workforce management systems have existed for decades to support and optimize worker performance. Historically, enterprises built this software from scratch, starting with simple accounting systems like General Ledger software 40 years ago, distribution and manufacturing systems 30 years ago, and finally customer information systems (CIS)/customer relationship management (CRM) tools just before the new millenium.
Today, few organizations would consider building their own workforce management software from scratch, no more than the average person would consider building their own car. Mature commercial solutions are feature-rich, easy to scale, and always improving, often making these the default solution.
Mobile workforce management software is a type of workforce management system designed to plan, manage, monitor, and optimize worker tasks performed in the field. It can involve more specific, even ad-hoc requirements, to suit the day-to-day needs of mobile workers.
When deciding whether to code their own mobile workforce management software or purchase a ready-made solution, organizations must ask themselves the age-old question: “Are we in the business of selling [X], or are we in the software development business?”
Building Software: Pros and Cons
The benefits and challenges of building mobile workforce management software vary across industries, the type of work performed, the makeup of the workforce, and more. Here are some general advantages and disadvantages of building your own mobile workforce management tool:
Advantages of Building Your Own Mobile Workforce Management Tool
The primary advantages of building custom software are greater flexibility and control over the software’s behavior and feature set. These advantages can be broken down further, and there are some additional benefits as well:
- Highly specific customization. When organizations build their own software, they have freedom to customize its function, features, and performance. Custom coded mobile workforce management software can have highly specific features for supporting complex or rare use-cases.
- Faster response time. In-house teams have greater control over bug fixes, general changes, and version control, including release schedules. Problems may be resolved more quickly because the organization designed and monitors it themselves, as opposed to a third party.
- More thorough integrations. The higher levels of control offer the potential to design mobile workforce management software so it dovetails perfectly into other existing platforms and tools. Though it may be more intensive than a plug-and-play solution, internal teams can fully integrate a nascent mobile workforce management system into current software.
- Software roadmap control. In-house software architects and development teams have full control over the software roadmap, so they can prioritize potential enhancements or features. Rather than relying on a third-party developer, in-house teams can pivot development and adjust in real time to changing priorities and requirements.
- Potential cost savings. As long as the software is relatively simple, and the organization hires out an inexpensive vendor to build it, it’s possible to achieve better ROI than with a completely commercial solution. However, the additional time involved in building your own tool, plus the cost of maintaining, troubleshooting, and improving the system, can eat up the cost savings.
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Disadvantages of Building Your Own Mobile Workforce Management Tool
Designing, building, and monitoring custom software comes with a significant set of challenges that are important to consider. Oftentimes, building mobile workforce management software is the more complicated, time-consuming, and resource-diverting option.
Time and Resources
Large upfront time investment. This is the first and most important consideration when deciding whether to develop your own software. Also, every step also runs the risk of running overly long and creating additional delays:
- Planning and brainstorming
- Establishing a development team
- Setting expectations and responsibilities
- Creating the platform
- Software integration
High, sometimes unpredictable, upfront costs. Established software companies can spend millions of dollars and take years to build a minimum viable product, let alone a stable and feature-complete one for reliable internal use. As many as two-thirds of IT projects run 100% over budget, and only one-quarter run within 25% of budget.
Unfortunately, this kind of large investment is not always a guarantee of success. Such massive projects have the power to disrupt services and upend business priorities, leading to project abandonment or worse.
Ongoing maintenance costs. SaaS mobile workforce management tools typically charge a monthly or per-user cost to cover ongoing maintenance, troubleshooting, and innovation. When you build your own tool, those areas are your responsibility instead. In addition to the upfront cost of getting the tool off the ground, don’t forget to consider the ongoing cost of maintaining, fixing, updating, and improving the tool.
Integration and Software Quality of Life
Integrating multiple data sources and devices. Mobile workforce management software can be massively difficult to integrate into existing systems. Mobile workforces, in particular, need to connect to critical systems of record with high security and latency requirements, and across multiple business silos. All of this happens on mobile devices, which make it even more difficult to manage sensitive data. The mobile aspect of mobile workforce management introduces hardware dependencies not often found in other development projects.
Maintaining connections and integrations over time. Even once APIs are successfully built and systems are integrated, managing these integrations becomes an additional, ongoing drain on organizational resources and staff. There are few guarantees that third-party and other internally developed software will evolve naturally in parallel (security requirements, mobile apps, etc.), and continue to play nice with one another without regular intervention. It will require ongoing, proactive work to keep these integrations working without a system outage that affects your mobile workers.
Growing and changing with organizational needs. In fact, reliable data integration across an organization’s own systems involves constant monitoring, staying abreast of changing standards, and continuous adjustments to performance and scalability. This means that an organization’s custom, new mobile workforce management platform may seem appropriate for current business requirements and resource needs, but it’s often rarely positioned to also grow the business or scale with it effectively.
Rarely funded for an entire product lifecycle. Custom-built solutions are often created, seldomly enhanced, used until they become obsolete, and rarely funded for an entire lifecycle. It results in wasted time, efforts, and costs. This is in contrast to a third-party solution, which can evolve with the business and stay functional because it is managed by a vendor wholly committed to the quality and longevity of the solution.
People: Requirements and Expectations
Greater need for technical and subject matter expertise. It’s not enough to simply allocate money and time to a custom mobile workforce management project. The architects, engineers, and analysts responsible for a working solution and smooth rollout need high levels of both technical and subject matter expertise. It’s rare for an in-house team to include the wide array of skills and knowledge required to take on such a project, resulting in additional hiring costs.
This tech expertise requirement often leads to some degree of outsourcing, more third-party involvement, and ultimately reintroduces vendor management, undermining one of the main benefits of building in-house software. So even after electing to build rather than buy the software, most organizations still won’t have complete control over their product build.
Hard-to-meet user expectations. Organizations need to manage user expectations for the software. Today, people are accustomed to high-quality, consumer-grade apps and interfaces, so a custom-built platform can easily disappoint. What’s more, internal users who know the system was built for the organization may expect specific functionality and bring additional demands to an already strained development team.
Incomplete development documentation. In-house developments are rarely documented as fully and fastidiously as commercial applications. This makes it difficult for new employees to inherit and continue supporting the system. It also complicates the process of enhancing or sharing software. Core staff are challenged to maintain an ad-hoc system, often experiencing ‘brain drain’ as they continue supporting a platform that’s separate from the business’ overall purpose.
Beyond upfront and ongoing costs, building an mobile workforce management platform from scratch can also include future and opportunity costs.
Limited innovation. Without insight from a vendor about how other businesses handle similar problems in their industry, organizations limit their ability to innovate and grow both their overall business and the software platform.
Missed opportunities to improve business processes. Building in-house also makes it more likely for organizations to automate and expand purely on their existing workflows. This creates missed opportunities to progressively improve business processes. Using a third-party system that is flexible and designed with best practices built in—and developed based on insight into how other organizations handle similar challenges—preserves organizational resources that are better spent on these improvements, while also influencing business processes for the better.
Difficult to keep up with technical innovations. Business requirements change rapidly in every industry—in just a decade, mobile platforms have gone from nonexistent to essential for most business industries. Companies needing to design, manage, and maintain their own software sacrifice resources that could help them adapt to rapidly changing business environments. And the software industry evolving so rapidly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with technical innovation and the promise of new platforms.
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Buying Mobile Workforce Management Software: Pros and Cons
Using commercial mobile workforce management software comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Buying a Mobile Workforce Management System
The clearest benefit of buying software is outsourcing all of the costs of building and maintaining the tool to third-parties. This singular advantage leads to myriad capital, time, and resource savings, as well as other more general benefits.
Transparent costs. The most direct savings come in the form of vendor pricing structures, which are far simpler and more transparent than calculating the total cost of designing, planning, and building software. The vendor takes care of all these tasks, and throws in ongoing maintenance and innovation.
No maintenance or resource expenses. Maintenance includes product management, performance monitoring, quality assurance, testing, product releases, documentation, SLAs (service-level agreements), and even infrastructure and hosting in the case of cloud platforms. All of these are business resource-intensive tasks that are included in third-party mobile workforce management software.
Easier and cheaper to scale up. When you build your own system, scaling up means reorganizing your staff and resources, reconfiguring or rebuilding your software, allocating hardware and software resources, and—depending on how everything goes—potentially a disruption in service. When you buy a mobile workforce management system, scaling up just means paying for additional users or a new tier of service. This makes it simpler to grow and focus on your larger base of customers without sacrificing speed, service, or core values.
Guaranteed Quality, Reliability, and Support
Reliability and security. Increasingly competitive markets across industries demand reliable and secure software. Further, consumers are becoming more concerned about their private information and worried about the slew of security breaches and leaks that affect them. As a result, vendors must carefully vet the reliability of their software and show great care with sensitive information. Today, software companies get strict security certifications and build components into their systems that ensure uptime. These benefits trickle down to the users in the form of more secure, more reliable system access.
Fully QA tested and vetted product. Commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) products are carefully tested in QA environments, leveraging powerful tools and programming expertise unavailable to the average business. Because vendors are usually focused on a single product, service, or vertical, they ultimately sell the same thing to many other businesses. This means they can leverage feedback from every single client to improve the product for everyone.
Rapid bug fixes. A bug or deficient feature for one client can end up being a problem for all of a vendor’s customers, so software companies are highly motivated to release high-quality software and proactively remedy issues. Cloud COTS vendors are especially adept at discovering and fixing problems and pushing updates out to active deployments across the world with minimal friction. Plus, if another client notices an issue first and reports it to the vendor, this becomes an additional advantage—issues can be fixed before most end-users are even aware of them.
More advanced and expensive features. Because development is amortised by the vendor across a whole customer base, users get access to more advanced and, oftentimes, expensive features that would be unavailable in an in-house build.
Enhanced support network. Beyond the software itself, established commercial solutions have dedicated and vibrant user communities and good support resources. Combined with careful and widely-available documentation, this gives individual users the opportunity to connect with peers from other companies, learn how others use the tool, expand their network, and troubleshoot individual problems faster.
Compatibility and Straightforward Integrations
Built-in integration and compatibility. Although buyers must shop for software that best integrates with their existing processes, vendors increasingly build platforms compatible with the widest sets of architectures and endpoints. Many COTS products are completely plug-and-play, with easy installations, and immediately available to connect to existing software—a major benefit.
For example, most vendors now design platforms that support multiple different programming languages for command line and scripting interfaces, so end-users can use the tools they already know and are most familiar with to interact with the new software. Cloud platforms, especially, offer useful APIs and connectors that make linking disparate systems together more straightforward.
Open integration frameworks. Organizations can further expand the possibilities for easy, effective data integration with open integration frameworks. Customers can take a COTS solution and extend it with built-in frameworks—focusing on unique business requirements rather than reinventing and supporting ‘the wheel.’
Business Focus and Innovation
Constant innovation without resource drain. With the software company in charge of engineering, testing, monitoring, upgrades, and maintenance, internal staff can focus on organization goals. Commercial software is always updated and enhancements are part of regular costs, which save on resources, time, and the procedural distractions of building and maintaining a mobile workforce management platform.
Disadvantages of Buying a Mobile Workforce Management System
The disadvantages of buying software mostly align with the advantages of building:
- Less control over bugs and upgrades. With purchased software, organizations have less control over roadmap, support level, bug fixes, and the direction of future enhancements or features. However, most third-party vendors do have customer advisory boards (CAB) and feedback mechanisms that encourage customers to guide product direction.
- Less control over timing. Waiting for an external dev team to fix bugs, release patches, and roll these changes out on their own schedule introduces a level of uncertainty and inconvenience for a business’ internal teams. Again, this problem is mitigated for cloud solutions, where vendors are highly motivated to restore service as soon as possible, for all clients.
- Predetermined UI framework. Buyers must accept the UI framework, styling, and interfaces provided by the third-party.
- Fewer custom-built integrations. Depending on the third-party platform, you may have fewer options for custom-build integrations and special features. It also means less control over integrations amongst existing platforms and business processes, but it’s important to note that some mobile workforce management products are specifically built for integration, obviating these disadvantages entirely.
- Costs. Buying third-party does involve some costs, such as annual or monthly fees for licensing and services. Weigh the monthly or annual costs against the total cost of planning, building, and maintaining your mobile workforce management tool for a true comparison.
Should I Build Or Buy My Mobile Workforce Management Software?
Your organization and its needs are unique, and the decision to build or buy mobile workforce management software ultimately depends on a wide variety of different factors: development resources, budget constraints, industry standards, mobile workers’ needs, customer needs, and more.
Here are a few important questions to frame the build vs. buy conversation for your organization:
1. What are your resource and cost constraints?
Building custom software from scratch takes a lot of work, and it’s challenging to calculate the total cost of building it. As you consider the best route for your organization, take inventory of the following:
- Your budget. Can you calculate the cost of planning, building, and maintaining the tool over time? How does this fit in with your other business/budgetary priorities? Can you take on the cost of hiring and training additional developers to complete this project?
- Your development resources. Does your in-house team have the experience and expertise to build a mobile workforce management system? Do you need to hire additional developers to handle the influx of work? Do you need to hire specialized developers to code complex parts of the tool? Who will be responsible for ongoing maintenance and bug fixes? How will you collect requirements and feedback from both leadership and the mobile workers who will use the tool?
- Your other business priorities. Do you have other high-priority projects in the works that also require development resources? If so, how will you prioritize this work so other critical business functions can continue?
Once you have a good view of your budget and development resources, you can ask yourself the tough questions: Do we have the time and expertise to build it ourselves? And do we want our developers solely focused on this project for the next X months?
If you don’t have enough developer support, or you need your developers to be available for other work, buying a mobile workforce management platform might be the best fit.
2. How soon is the platform needed?
Buying software is more immediate, while designing and engineering takes time. If there is any urgency in deploying an effective mobile workforce management system, a pre-built platform is your best chance to get it up and running as soon as possible.
3. What are your organization’s software needs?
Building your own tool is a long-term commitment. It requires you to invest resources upfront (project management, software development, UX design, change management, etc.), as well as throughout the life of the tool (maintaining, testing, and improving the system). Even if the initial build is ready in 6 months, the project itself lasts for years—testing, iterating, and troubleshooting all the way until you build a new tool, or buy a proven mobile workforce management system.
All the while, the software industry continues to get deeper and wider, with new products available to manage or perform any task. In-house software development is declining in popularity, and it’s almost non-existent in major industries. More than ever, in-house development is seen as an exception, rather than the norm: a good route for genuinely unique or highly specialized use cases, or for services provided directly to other businesses, but not the kind of project you should take on lightly.
Think about where you are today, and where you want your organization to go. What are your organization’s software needs? Are you confident you can build a tool that works not only today, but in an undefined future? And if so, are you willing to get into the software development business for the next few years to build a truly great tool?
Mobile Workforce Management Software
Building your own mobile workforce management systems involves large upfront and ongoing investments in money, time, and manpower, but does allow greater flexibility and relative control over the platform. Unless your organization has extremely particular feature requirements, underused IT resources to devote to custom software, or are yourself in the business of workforce management services and software, it’s not as beneficial to build your own software.
Pre-built software depends on economies of scale, which deliver cost savings and greater efficiency for end users. Software vendors also are motivated by a commercial imperative to provide reliable, secure, and overall high-quality software.
Skedulo provides trusted, reliable, and easily integrated mobile workforce management software, which you can use to create seamless workflows across your unique tech stack. Book a demo today to see how mobile workforce management software can transform your business!