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How Do You Know If Buying Boarding School Software Is Right For Your School?

Vincent Paget

November 23, 2015

When you're looking to invest in software for your boarding school, is it a good idea to BUILD your own, or are you better off to BUY software from a third party? Here's what you need to know to help you decide what option is best for your school.

“If you want something done right, do it yourself"Chances are, you’ve heard (or said) this phrase before, and for many simple tasks in life, whether it be at work, home or even in public, this saying "fits like a glove"… But when it comes to implementing new software solutions for your boarding school, it's not so straight-forward.Are you better off to BUILD a customised solution, tailored to your needs, or BUY a ready made service?Throughout our journey thus far, we've encountered this exact issue among several of our boarding school customers from around the world and it's easy to see why. As you already know, all boarding schools operate slightly differently from each other and therefore, you may require a solution that is more tailored to your environment.But before you jump the gun, there are multiple factors that need to be taken into consideration. Everything from the broad questions, like “Do we have enough time and money to implement our own solution?” to the specific like, “How will a pre-built solution affect our current workflow?”So to help you make an informed decision, I've compiled together 5 key considerations you should address before you Build or Buy.

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1. Time is Money

As the saying goes, "Time is money", especially when you are looking to make strategic changes to your business. So when you are investing in a new software solution, whether it be built or bought, it’s a good idea to understand exactly how much time will be required until you can start to see the benefits.Build - Are you willing to spend a lot of time before you start seeing any real benefits?Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is software. Building a software solution is a lengthy process and really depends on how complex the problem is. For small, non-critical applications, time may be less of an issue, but for solutions which involve multiple users and features, the time spent can range from months to years.You should also be aware that once the software is built, there is still a vast amount of time spent to implement, test, and re-design. If you choose to build your own software, make sure you can afford to spend enough time for it to be built properly. Otherwise, you run the risk of building a very rushed and incompetent piece of software.Before you build, make sure you assess the abilities of your ambitious IT staff because if they don’t have the sufficient skills and expertise, the building process will take a lot longer than normal.You may have to make the decision to hire someone else who is more qualified and capable of taking on the project efficiently.Buy - How much time will be spent implementing your selected software?The beauty of buying software is that there is no time spent building it, but there will be time spent in the implementation process.So when you are selecting your new software, make sure you check how they plan to implement their solution and how long it will take. The time spent during this process is mainly dependent on how quickly the users will be able to learn and adjust to the new software.Are there on-going training sessions provided or just one big introduction? Are you taught via human interaction or is there an automated tutorial?To ensure that your transition period is as smooth as possible, be sure to pay attention to the usability of their software and to ask current and former customers about their experiences with their implementation processes.[Tweet "Implementation Time Vs Build Time #TimeIsMoney #BuildvsBuy"]

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2. Behind the Scenes

A software solution without proper support and maintenance is doomed to fail. When you're looking to invest in software, it's essential to take into account the amount of technical and customer support that is needed "behind the scenes".Build - Are you able to provide the resources to properly manage the software yourself?If you plan on building software without fully understanding the support side, you're already making a huge mistake. In order to build successful software, you'll need to prepare a management team to handle all the technical problems such as fixing bugs and crashes as well as to provide on-going customer support.This means that you'll either have to hire new employees with full-time salaries, or repurpose current staff members, which, depending on their capabilities and current workload, will take some time to adapt.On one hand, it's easy to see how building your own software will require a lot of time and money behind the scenes. On the other hand, if you are willing to put the effort in, a support team that is focused purely on providing help for a specific group may prove to be invaluable.Buy - Does your selected software provide proper support and maintenance?Once you have implemented your purchased software, do you know where to go if you need assistance? Before you purchase your software, it's a good idea to check whether or not they provide a proper full-time support team.Any good software company should offer you easily accessible, good quality technical and customer support. With the help of an effective support system, your staff will be able to seamlessly adjust to the newly integrated software, removing the need for you to manage any issues behind the scenes. This really simplifies the process and provides you with a lot more time to really focus on more important aspects of your job.But if they don’t offer adequate support and maintenance, it can lead to a lot of miscommunication and frustration with the provider, and can negatively impact your working environment.[Tweet "Software without support and maintenance is doomed to fail #BuildvsBuy"]

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3. Staying Current

Keeping up to date with technology and constantly improving the software is crucial. Successful software companies with regular updates and new features are far more effective that those that rarely improve their product.Build - Will you have the time and budget to regularly improve the software yourself?You cannot plan on building your solution with the idea that it'll solve all your problems the first time round. It’s necessary to regularly research and improve your software so that it can become relative to any technological changes as well as any changes that occur within your working environment.To do this properly, you'll need to have an extensive budget to be able to fund the research and development of new features and updates. If you aren’t prepared to spend a great deal of effort, time and money here, you run the risk of creating a short-term software solution that will soon become out of date.However, if you have what it takes, having complete ownership of your built software will give you the freedom to control and customise any feature/update you like, without the need to consult or request the feature from a third party.Buy - Is your selected software solution proactively building out and updating new features?The key to selecting the best software solution is to look for a software company that's constantly looking to grow and improve their product. Be sure to check whether or not the company has a strong track record of regular updates.Purchasing from a software company that's proactive in their field will give you the peace of mind that they'll still be relevant in the future.An added benefit of using a third party system is the fact that they're able to provide you with the best and most relevant updates and features because they're likely to be dealing with other customers that are also experiencing the same difficulties and problems as you. Their vast array of customer knowledge and experimentation of what works and what doesn’t, places them in the perfect position to provide you with the best updates that have been proven to work.When you're choosing to invest in a successful software company, you're also choosing to invest in their teams research and knowledge that you simply could not get from an in-house system.[Tweet "Think long term and stay current #BuildvsBuy"]

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4. Return on Investment (ROI)

Arguably, this is the most important factor to consider when investing in software. It’s essential to take a good hard look at the total cost of software ownership vs software subscription. This may seem obvious, but the details of each option are often over-looked.Build - Are you accounting for the hidden costs of owning your own software?The common misconception to building your own software is that “you can build it for less than the recurring subscription costs”.Before you jump the gun and start building your own software, it’s crucial that you take a long hard look at your available time and budget, to see whether or not A) you can afford the initial development and on-going maintenance and B) whether or not the reward will be worth it.The total cost of ownership can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Software - The cost of programs and data used for computing, communication and information processing.
  2. Hardware - The cost of servers, computers, routers, desktops and any other network equipment that may be required.
  3. People - The cost of salaries and professional service fees that are associated with the people who develop, support and maintain the usability and reliability of your system. This also includes the value of time spent on professional development and management.

The amount of time and expenses involved is perhaps the biggest downside to building your own software. Remember, Time Is Money!Do you have an abundance of both time and money to take on the task of software creation? Will the benefits of the software outweigh the costs? How much time or money will you save from creating this software? Make sure you take all of these things into account if you decide to go down this track.Buy - Will you save time and money by utilising a third party software?Arguably the best thing about purchasing a licensed software is that the provider will have to manage the development, maintenance and services, whilst all you have to think about are the initial and ongoing fees. However, the increasingly competitive SaaS industry is making it harder to select a solution which will offer you the best value for money.To ensure you're selecting the best software solution, from a ROI perspective, make sure that you A) Assess the cost/benefits breakdown and B) Weigh those factors against your available budget; What products can you actually afford?When assessing the cost of subscribing to a software product be sure to measure these 4 things:

  1. Upfront Costs - What is the cost of initial instalment?.
  2. Recurring Costs - What is the cost per user, per month/year?.
  3. Scalability - How many users do you plan to add in the near future, and how will that impact the overall cost?.
  4. Labor Costs - How much time will be spent using this software? what are the savings in labor cost per month?

By having a clear understanding of the overall cost of the software, and weighing this cost against its key benefits, you'll be capable of making an educated decision towards choosing the best software solution that is suited to your budget.[Tweet "It all comes down to Costs vs Benefits #BuildvsBuy "]

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5. Exit Strategy

This may seem like an odd factor to consider, however, it’s quite necessary if things don’t end up going to plan. It's helpful to know what your options might be, and how you can prepare for them.Build - Are you prepared to accept defeat?If things take a turn for the worst, it can be hard to admit that the software you created is not working out as you had expected. Especially because the amount of time and money sunken into the failed project would have been much more than what you could have invested in a third party solution.So if things do start to go pear shaped, what options do you have?You basically have two main options available. The first option would be to attempt to save all the work you've done by sinking more money and time into the software. This could prove to be very costly and if it doesn’t work out again, you might as well just be throwing your money away.The other option would be to cut your losses, end the project and begin looking for other ways of fixing the solution, whether that be looking into purchasing a third-party software or even going back to an analogue solution.So whilst this is an unpleasant situation to think about, it should still be dealt with before making your decision to build out you own software solution.[Tweet "Is building your own software worth the risk #BuildvsBuy"]Buy - What are your options if it doesn’t work out?Like anything, third party software can also go wrong. It might be that the software is not a right fit for your given situation, you may not be able to keep up with the recurring payments, or the software company may even be struggling and going under.Either way, bad things can happen, however, the good thing about using a purchased software license is that you are often on a monthly or yearly subscription. So if things do start to take a turn for the worst you can easily cancel your subscription and opt out at the end of the given period.In the unlikely circumstance you're locked into a strict long-term contract, you may have a bit more work to do. In this situation, it can be useful to get in contact with the provider and request a specific leaving plan. It’s also a good idea to ask former customers about their experiences in similar situations. Be sure to get any relevant information in writing as you may need to refer back to them if you require legal action.

The Decision Is Yours

The decision to build or buy a software service is not to be taken lightly, and should be taken with great consideration for the future. Ultimately, you want to ensure that you select an option that provides an effective solution to your problem, a favourable ROI and is an enjoyable product to use.If you decide to Build your own software service, make sure you understand exactly what you're getting yourself in for. Take a long hard look into the total budget and time you have available and whether or not the software is worth building for your strategic objectives. If you have the resources and are willing to put in the effort, you may be able to reap the benefits of a highly customizable solution tailored to your specific objectives.If you decide to Buy a software service, make sure you do your research. Check not only for the quality of the product but also the quality of service they provide - Ask current and former customers for their honest opinion as to whether the service was helpful or whether they are just looking to make a quick sale. The key here is to select a software service which provides a tailored industry solution that meets your objectives and to partner with an established provider that you can trust to administer great quality service, leaving you with more time to focus on running your core business.No matter what option you choose, make sure you do your homework and make the decision with the future in mind.Have you recently gone through a similar process, or have you been thinking about it? Please share your story or any further questions you may have in the comments below or tweet us @Boardingware with #BoardingwareChat[marketo-fat form="1107"]

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Vincent Paget

Vincent Paget is an Operations Manager at Orah based in Auckland, New Zealand. He loves technology, organisation, nature and adventure sports, not necessarily in that order.

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