Buy or Build…

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Introduction

‘Buy or build’ is always at the top of mind when considering where best to invest your money in a new Investigation Management System. As a long-term IT developer/leader in a large variety of industries, I have seen a lot of money spent of software R&D. Some of it well spent, some not.

As you consider the build option, please use this document. It will explain some of the things you and your development team will need to have in place to ensure your money is well spent.

If you choose to build, please feel free to pass on this advice to your development team, your CEO, CFO, CIO, as well as your company’s board.

All parties will need to understand the level of investment and commitment required by your organisation to make an application that will work this year and still be relevant years from now.

All the best

Stuart Guthrie

Principal

Polonious

1. Get together a great team

To get there with any speed, you need a team of at least three developers. They need to be bright, gifted and extremely experienced. Sourcing and selecting this team will be difficult. Expect to retain all of them for at least a year, probably two. Expect to pay each about what you pay your senior investigators, probably more.

Numbers and quality do matter. At Polonious we have five developers, of these, most are IT Masters-qualified and are bright, gifted and keen. This development team is supplemented by a great support team.

2. Get an great team leader

You will need a team leader with substantial software development experience in many industries. They need to have lead and developed many projects from ground up. Their knowledge of the chosen language and business requirement will need to be second to none. This will help you run the team efficiently and prevent a lot of problems as the project evolves. Expect to pay this leader close to what your senior management get paid, if you’ve found a bargain basement price for this role, you are probably going to fail.

By way of example, I am Polonious’ team leader. I have been writing code for major corporations (including the BBC, Mercedes Benz, OTIS, Progress Software Corporation, Dept Primary Industry & Energy, Aushealth, SimsGroup, BBQ Galore, Rothschild, CommBank) for 24 years. I’ve covered most of the major industry verticals such as Accountancy, Legal, Banking, Insurance, Manufacturing, Distribution, Taxation, TV/media. I’ve pretty much seen most varieties of approach, learnt a bunch from them and apply this knowledge every day to our application software. This means we can produce a whole lot more for a whole lot less and pass on those savings & improvements to our customer base.

3. Make sure everyone is prepared for a long term financial commitment.

Most software products go through two financial phases.

1. An initial burst of investment which is quite high. Make sure this is 6-7 figures.

2. Followed by a permanent employee or two who sustain and slowly improve the product for the long term.

This is the basic math we use when considering the costs of build vs buy off the shelf. Of course, it’s also worth noting that your estimate of cost is likely to be incorrect by a factor of at least 2. This is the historical expectation.

Worth noting here is that unless you commit to significant long term investment, your product will die a slow death and need replacing within 5 years.

By way of example: From a large initial investment two years ago, Polonious are currently have several developers dedicated ot the improvement of our product. This figure is rising as the software sells around the globe. Whilst not all of this will be visible the next day, our customers will be assured of an on-going, improving software application that will ‘keep current’ and pleasantly surprise their clients, and their team.

4. Design with the future in mind.

As you build your IMS, make sure you make the right strategic decisions about your computer language that will future-proof your investment. If you depend on any one computer operating system or database, you could end up requiring a re-write of the application.

For example, fifteen years ago, DEC, Wicat, Wang still existed and IBM were the ones to beat. Very few people thought Microsoft was good for anything beyond the local area network. There are many applications written on those and other platforms that required expensive re-writes when the ‘big name’ platform behind them failed.

It’s highly likely that even the current great players such as Microsoft, Apple and even Google will not be around or significant in the next few years. An investment in .net for example, is probably money wasted.

Long term industry and IT experience are crucial to your return on investment. Polonious are building for the future years of IT evolution. Our product PCMS works on all currently sold operating systems (UNIX, Microsoft, Apple, SUN, etc), and against almost all current databases (DB2,Oracle,SQL-Server,Postgresql,MySQL). As an example, we can scale up to 64-CPU IBM Power Series (big enough to run the largest  Insurer) or down to a little PC in the corner office. We continually invest significantly to keep the technology current and useful to our client-base. Are you prepared to stand by your developers and ensure this with an internal built application?

5. Make sure your development team is continually improving their game.

In IT, the pace of change is relentless. It is vital that you provide your team the time to step back from your development requirements and work through new tools and industry best practice. Most in-house development shops do not have the financial resources to do this. Getting this right allows for sustained improvements in developer productivity. Without doing this, you are over-spending on old practices and tools.

By way of example, Polonious are constantly evolving the development process to get more for our investment from the team. These processes are on-going and shared by the whole team. They cover areas such as tool improvements, unit testing frameworks, web development plugins, new applications for integration, industry developments and business process improvements.

6. Make sure software is your core business.

A lot of large companies these days are focusing on what they do best. For example, outsourcing¬† is a question asked now in every department of a corporation, not just the call centre. The reason for this focus. We realise that if it’s not core to our business, it’s often better to outsource it to the experts, let them deliver what they know best for less than was spent in-house.

If you want to build an Investigation Management System that will compete, you will have to make software as important as your core business and invest accordingly.

7. Be passionate about new IT frontiers.

We suggest that your team leader puts aside about 25% of their time to explore and work out how to utilise all the new technologies as they evolve.

This is vital – development you do today might be constraining your future options. A current example, Google dedicate 20% of every developer’s time to this task. Make sure you budget for it – in the long term, the reward is there.

At Polonious, we are constantly looking for what we can do to improve our products. We have projects launched concerning Mapping, GPS, Video Streaming, Mobile Phone interfaces, BPM (Business Process Management), and many other areas. Some of these are complete, some are just experimental, they all push our customer base ahead of their competitors.

9. Make sure you match the competitors feature-for-feature.

In order for your application to grow and improve, it needs to be winning you some business sales in the industry. The decision to hire your company may come down to the quality of the software interface. If so, shouldn’t you be at least on parity with your competitors?

To stay at least on parity, ensure you will need to match or beat the level of investment at IMS software companies year-on-year.

Polonious is a market leading IMS product in Australian and the US. We match and beat our competitors in capability and are ready to demonstrate this as required.

10. Ensure your IT infrastructure is secure and resilient.

As you deploy your application, you will need to show in tenders how you are handling network hackers, that your application has fail-over, rollback and clustering incorporated. You will also need to indicate what your network monitoring solution is and what professionals you have in place to manage all this. Internal expertise in these fields can be hard to come by. You will need to allocate some money for these needs: security checks, monitoring, servers, infrastructure, backups, resilience, disaster recovery planning.

Polonious’¬† solution handles security, Intrusion Detection Systems, firewalls, network monitoring, VM, clustering and failover. You can confidently answer these questions on tenders with ‘Yes, absolutely’.

11. Test, test, retest and test again.

Quality is king in software. It is vital that when your software is released, you reduce the downtime due to bugs and other issues to a minimum. Your Investigation business will depend on a bug-free IMS product. You will probably need to invest at least 25% of another person over the life of the project. This person will need to document and test the application. This resource will need to be relatively senior to ensure that the testing covers all requirements.

Polonious has people assigned to test and document PCMS on an on-going basis.

12. Keep on investing in R&D

Budget to spend each year keeping your team in place and enhancing the product. This will allow you to keep pace with your competitors (such as the 30+ investigation companies and SIUs that use Polonious).

We believe the future of the investigation industry world-wide will move to require excellence in IT as well as excellence in services. To compete, investigation companies will need to either invest a high percentage of their profits in software development or start losing client tenders as they fall due.

Polonious invests continually to provide their clients with the best IT solution available. This means our clients are able to win and keep these tenders as they come up.

13. The end game – The Upside. You can sell it to other companies

Take a step back and think about this.

Your competitors, sharing all their client details, contacts, caseloads, opportunities, markets and trends with you. Not an appealing proposition really.

Polonious is a software company that has built an enviable reputation for service with a varied clientele who know they can trust us with their business.

Last updated: October 21st, 2009