Build vs Buy: Mobile Workforce Management Software

By Bartek Woroniecki

Buying or building a new software platform is a huge decision for any business. Whether it’s a SaaS solution or one created in-house, the software needs to fit into the budget, address the company’s key goals, and be easy for workers to use.

Now that only 33% of workers are tied to a specific location, like a central office, mobile workers make up most of the global workforce. Companies need to consider the unique requirements of mobile workforce management software in the decision-making process: a mobile-first UX design, offline functionality, and GPS features.

There are some overall advantages and disadvantages of building your own software, although the situation will vary based on the type of work performed, the target market, and the makeup of the workforce. Read on for a guide to building vs. buying enterprise software.

Buying software: pros and cons

When you consider the total lifetime costs of software, buying tends to be much more affordable than building in-house. Outsourcing the process of building, maintaining, improving, and securing an enterprise-grade platform to a SaaS provider allows companies to focus on their core business, rather than software development.

As technology becomes more complex, so does commercial workforce management software. The cost of innovation is amortized across a large customer base, giving each customer advanced features at a fraction of the true cost. For example, field service companies can use AI to improve scheduling without employing experts in AI and machine learning.

That being said, there are certain situations in which buying software is not the right fit. A mobile workforce management company with a particularly unique and complex use case may need a custom solution to meet its needs. If the company has a large budget for software development and IT support, a highly skilled team, and capacity to spare, it may be well-equipped to take on such a demanding software project.

Buying Software – PROS

  • More affordable and predictable lifetime cost
  • All-in pricing includes support, maintenance, innovation and improvements
  • Easy to scale up (add users) as the business grows
  • Can be deployed in days or weeks
  • Established standards for uptime and reliability
  • Enterprise grade security and compliance built-in, including HIPAA and GDPR
  • User community and thorough software documentation
  • Live IT support for company managers and mobile workers
  • Access to advanced features (e.g. AI) at a cheaper rate than building them in-house
  • Often compatible with other major software providers out of the box
  • Providers have commercial imperative to deliver reliable, secure, innovative platform

Buying Software – CONS

  • Less control over software roadmap, outside of customer advisory boards and feedback mechanisms
  • No control over the prioritization of bugs and fixes (although SaaS providers are motivated to fix bugs for all customers ASAP)
  • Less control over UI framework, integrations, and back-end configuration
  • Must pay subscription fee or lose access to software

Consider an example: A telecommunications company with a mobile workforce in the UK is struggling with its mobile workforce operations. Technicians are missing appointments, customer ratings are low, and back-office staff is overwhelmed by phone calls from customers and workers. The manual note-taking and scheduling system isn’t working anymore — it’s time to buy or build a software platform to improve operations.

Company leadership starts the decision-making process:

  1. Take inventory of software development and IT resources – they have an IT team, but not enough bandwidth or expertise to take on a project this large; they would need to increase headcount
  2. Define the problems to solve – inefficient workforce scheduling practices and poor communication that is dependent on phone calls
  3. Consider the future – they want the company’s immediate focus to be increasing technician utilization and completing more appointments per week, with a long-term goal of increasing the size of the technician workforce

The UK telecom provider has a small software dev team, a solvable set of challenges, and their main business goal is efficiency. Revenue should go toward the long-term goal of company growth—not creating and maintaining in-house software. In this situation, it is best to buy mobile workforce management software. Buying allows the company to deploy the software quickly and start realizing operational improvements sooner.

Building software: pros and cons

Building your own software gives you the utmost control over the software and maximum flexibility to make changes. It is a good fit for companies that are comfortable in the software development space and want to make their proprietary software a competitive advantage.

However, building software is more challenging, expensive, and time-consuming for most businesses. It requires more time to get up and running, so it is not a good fit for solving urgent problems. It requires a wealth of internal expertise, which may involve hiring specialized roles or outsourcing certain tasks—the thing you wanted to avoid in the first place. Once deployed, the software will need ongoing support, maintenance, and innovation from in-house developers and support staff.

Building software – PROS

  • Full control of software roadmap and release dates
  • Ability to stand out from competitors, if software is significantly better than commercial offerings
  • Maximum customization of features, visual design, UX, and integrations
  • Full control of development and support priorities (e.g. bug fixes, version control, etc.)
  • Software becomes intellectual property that can be retained and used long-term

Building software – CONS

  • Requires months or years of staff time to build, launch, and sustain
  • Total cost of planning, building, testing, and maintaining the software is high and unpredictable
  • Ongoing budget required for maintenance, innovation, documentation, QA, and support
  • Requires highly skilled internal team of architects, engineers, testers, analysts, and support staff
  • Often requires hiring additional staff
  • Hard to meet the extremely high user expectations for enterprise software
  • Must scale up the platform infrastructure as the business grows
  • Employee turnover results in losing institutional software knowledge
  • High opportunity cost of building software instead of focusing on other business priorities
  • Proprietary software necessitates more staff training, as skills from other employers do not transfer
  • Must create and negotiate integrations individually (e.g. create custom integrations and pay for API calls as needed)

Consider another example: A B2B software support company employs technicians who travel to commercial locations to install, update, and troubleshoot advanced software for business clients. However, the app that technicians use in the field does not connect to the CRM, so technicians arrive unprepared—especially for last-minute additions to the schedule — and repeat visit percentage is too high. The company needs a new way of keeping mobile workers informed.

Company leadership starts to weigh its options:

  1. Take inventory of software development and IT resources – due to the nature of the business, the company has a large and highly skilled team of developers, analysts, and IT support
  2. Define the problems to solve – technicians need better resources and info in the field delivered via an app they want to use
  3. Consider the future – eventually, the company wants to expand their business to licensing software to other companies

The B2B software support company has a strong investment in software development, a talented team, and company goals that hinge on excellent proprietary software. In this situation, it is best to build mobile workforce management software — if the company has enough bandwidth for the project. This way, they can build a proprietary platform to the company’s exact specifications, with full control over features, branding, support, security, and innovation.

Key factors in the build vs. buy decision

The build vs. buy equation is unique for each company based on their business realities: budget, timeline, mobile workers’ needs, customers’ needs, in-house software development capabilities, and the type of service provided.

Keeping in mind the unique nature of your business, consider these five factors in your decision:

  1. Company goals

Company goals should be the starting point of any build vs. buy decision. Consider the near-term goals and the long-term vision of the company, and think through the software features needed to reach those goals.

Mobile workforce management software can help achieve goals like increasing the number of appointments completed, improving customer satisfactionincreasing employee engagement, and increasing the first-time resolution rate for your mobile workforce.

As you vet software providers, consider the features they offer and how they might fit into company goals. For example, take a field service company with a goal to improve the sustainability of field operations. A software provider offers intelligent scheduling with route optimization built-in, a feature that 68% of field service companies say is the top priority for their sustainability program to reduce miles, visits and CO2 emissions. If you can accomplish that element of your sustainability program with a SaaS platform, you can save time and resources to focus on other sustainability wins.

  • What are your short-term goals? What software features do you need to accomplish those goals?
  • What are your long-term goals? What software features do you need to support that vision?
  • Do those goals lean toward building or buying? How does a large software dev project fit into your goals? What about ongoing support and innovation? Would buying software free up time or resources to focus on other goals?
  1. IT and software development capabilities

Consider the size and expertise of your team. Building software in-house requires engineers, designers, UX experts, integration specialists, security experts, and technical support. Some of these roles will be needed long-term, while others will only be needed in the design and launch phases. If the expertise does not exist in-house, the company will need to hire and train new staff members.

Buying software will still require some technical support, but the number of people (and amount of expertise) required is much lower. A SaaS platform has many other users, which means bugs are often reported—and even resolved—before your company is impacted.

If you don’t have enough developer support, or you need them to be available for other work, buying mobile workforce management software is usually the best fit.

  • What is the capability of your software team? Does your in-house team have the experience and expertise to build a mobile workforce management system? How will the team ensure the design is driven by company goals and feedback from mobile workers?
  • What is the size of your software team? Do you need to hire additional staff to handle the influx of work? Do you need to hire specialized roles? Who will be responsible for maintenance and bug fixes?
  • Do you need bandwidth available for other work? Are there other projects that need to be addressed? If so, what is the plan to split responsibilities among platform development and other work?
  1. Budget

The cost of buying software is an upfront implementation fee plus a recurring subscription fee, often based on the number of users. This subscription cost may increase slightly over time, based on new features and/or increased costs on the provider’s side.

The total cost of building software, however, is more complicated. First, consider upfront investment costs of the project: hiring, project management, planning, software development, UX design, testing, change management, hosting, rollout, etc. Next, consider the long-term costs of being a software provider: maintenance, testing, troubleshooting, quality assurance, documentation, outage prevention, security, new feature development and deployment, and user feedback monitoring.

In many cases, the price tag for the build itself is not overwhelming—but the long-term costs are too high. Building something in-house means taking responsibility for troubleshooting every issue, fixing every outage, and deploying every new feature. If funding for the maintenance and innovation of the tool is lacking, the software will lag behind competitors and put the workforce at a disadvantage.

For highly specialized or genuinely unique use cases, building software in-house delivers ROI that commercial software cannot. But for most businesses, buying achieves better ROI faster.

  • What is your immediate budget for this project? What is the budget for the launch of the software?
  • What is your ongoing budget for this project? What is the budget for ongoing software maintenance, IT support, QA, feature development, professional development, and feedback collection? Will this budget be guaranteed for the life of the software platform?
  • Does this spending align with company priorities? How does this expenditure fit into the larger business and budget?
  1. Timeline

Buying software is nearly always faster than building software. Even when you factor in the time required to customize commercial software and set up necessary integrations, implementing a SaaS solution is still much faster than creating and deploying a custom-built solution.

If there is any urgency in deploying a mobile workforce management system, a pre-built platform is usually the better choice. If you have plenty of time to solve this problem—and can dedicate significant resources to it for the foreseeable future—then you can afford to build a custom platform.

  • How long will each approach take? Based on the scale of the problem(s) you want to solve, how long will it take to build your own solution? How long would it take to select and deploy a commercial mobile workforce management software?
  • How long are you able to wait to solve this problem? How long can you afford to spend fixing the underlying issues?
  • What are your other business priorities? Do you have other high-priority projects in the works that also need software developers’ time? If so, how will you prioritize this work so other critical business functions can continue?
  1. Technical needs

Consider the complexity of your use case. Define the requirements of your software, including features, availability, support, network usage, offline functionality, integrations, security, compliance, AI, and more.

Think about both current and future needs. The software platform that you build or buy must keep pace with the expectations of workers and customers over time. Poor software can hurt the employee experience, while excellent mobile workforce management software can increase employee engagement and retention.

  • What are the software needs of the organization? What features are needed to fulfill current operations?
  • How will the software need to evolve? What features will be needed in the future?
  • How well do the needs of the business align with the skills of your team? Is your in-house team equipped to deliver what the business needs? If not, is there an existing software that can fill the gaps?
To learn more about how TimeLinx can help your business, contact us today.
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About TimeLinx
TimeLinx delivers innovative project & service management software as a complete solution that perfects the sell-track-manage-support-bill cycle that services organizations must have to delight their customers; TimeLinx brings the cycle together in a single application that offers less frustration, better project management, complete reporting, and improved profitability – all specially designed for Infor and Sage.

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