Buy vs. Build?

Which way is the pendulum shifting?

The Buy vs. Build question in enterprise IT is once again in the spotlight, as the pendulum may be shifting. For many years, Buy has been on a winning streak, as the “Why build something if I can buy it?” question has been hard to knock down. Even in areas where differentiating capabilities from your competitors is important, many incumbents have sided with a best-of-breed Buy strategy. While that often appears to be the simplest path forward, the reality is that to actually make things work, let alone differentiate your business, many customers find that because so much customization is required, Buy eventually turns into Build anyway.There are two reasons to believe the balance in the battle between Buy and Build is shifting.

Firstly, it is easier and cheaper than ever before to build bespoke systems. State-of-the-art, productive, open-source frameworks for developing and managing the application lifecycle have matured and are readily available. And, for those who fully adopt the public cloud, the combination of open-source apps, vast storage capacity, and super computing power is not only cheaper than “store-bought” systems, but provides much more agility.

Secondly, competition from digital natives and an intensifying data-analytics arms race are increasing the need to differentiate through IT. For incumbents, too, who are likely using almost identical “store-bought” systems, a Build strategy is also necessary for differentiation.

Beyond those two IT incentives, the Build strategy has another powerful and positive spinoff—it attracts business-minded engineering and data-science talent. The top talent that most companies want to attract is looking for a hands-on Build experience, and is not content with managing IT requirements and vendor relationships. An opportunity to Build is an opportunity to act as a catalyst for a high clock-speed culture and help shape the future of the company.

This does not mean that the Buy strategy has no place in today’s world. For many companies, and many parts of the landscape, Buy will remain the default option. But consciously recognizing Build as part of your strategy will enable a culture and talent plan critical for success. Fail to do so, and you’re likely to end up building a significant amount anyways, but without the competitive benefits or talent pool for sustainable success.