Parsable Blog

Build or Buy? Adding Connected Worker Capabilities to Your Industrial Tech Stack

Jake Piehnik

Ask any operations manager if they want to get more data about the day-to-day work done by their employees on the plant floor or remotely in the field, and the likely answer is yes. The reasons all boil down to, “We need better insight into what our employees do, how they do it, and how they can be doing it better so that we can make or save more money.”

This isn’t a new problem. But, from a technology and implementation perspective, this is way easier said than done. One of the first decisions to make is whether you should partner with an external software provider or build your own solution.Download Executive Brief

Download our “Build or Buy” executive brief to learn more about the pros and cons 
of SaaS versus internally developed solutions

Having built out multiple internal applications at several big corporations before joining Parsable, I’ve heard this debated a lot, and for good reason: It’s a big investment. I’ve found that more often than not, the decision for a company to build its own product is based on assumptions rooted in difficult-to-prove productivity savings, handed down as mandates.

For example, in a previous life my team was once told to “build horizontal capabilities” upon the assumption that all of our disparate teams in various sectors need 80% identical capabilities. So we went on to develop “horizontal products” and “killer apps.” We had t-shirts and stickers that reminded us of how innovative we were. We knew our users and our use case better than anyone.

What we failed to fully appreciate at the time was that there’s a reason why Fortune 500 companies partner with proven global software companies, and there’s a reason why enterprise software providers exist: Building great software products, deployed at scale, is really, really hard.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are a few key questions to ask and I bring them up anytime I’m with a Parsable prospect or customer who’s thinking about going down the do-it-yourself path. One thing I emphasize is that we’re making these decisions on behalf of all the workers in our factories and out in the field. If we’re not making the best decisions for our end users, we’d be foolish to expect to collect the data needed to get to the insights we’re after.

Build or Buy

Here are six important types of questions to ask when you’re trying to decide whether to buy or build your own:

1. Time to Market / Speed to Outcome: How quickly can you develop and implement a product?

2. Change Management / Product Adoption: Do you have a program in place to grow usage over the long term?

3. Ongoing Maintenance: Do you have teams in place to not only perform timely upgrades to match changing business needs but also to triage user bugs, user issues, app crashes, platform issues and various other user problems?

4. Extensibility / Breadth of Feature Set: What level of investment is needed to build basic functionality or integrate the new solution to existing systems – MES, ERP, etc. – as well as other future technologies (e.g., augmented reality, voice I/O, wearables, etc.)?

5. Continuous Innovation: Do you have the resources to continuously monitor product maturity and to look for a better way of doing things?

6. User Experience (UX) Satisfaction: Do you have the in-house expertise to conduct research and testing, and build designs and interactions to deliver a consumer-grade experience that users expect? 

Building technology at scale isn’t for the faint of heart; it requires dedicated long-term resourcing, specialized expertise, and committed championship, just to name a few. Add to that the challenge of corporate-mandated technology frameworks, mandated platforms, mandated microservices, etcetera, and a SaaS solution might seem like a great idea.

The best approach is to put bias and pride aside: Outline your goals, sit down with your team, and come to a decision that’s best for the users – the workers who must use the technology they’re given. In the end, it’s them who will always have the knowledge (and therefore the data) we request, and it’s them that we all ultimately serve.

DownloadDownload our “Build or Buy” executive brief for more detailed expert guidance on this important decision.