Oh, the Horror! (J/K: Software Development Doesn’t Have to Be Scary!)
What scares you the most about adapting new technology for your business? Scope creep, high costs, or uncertainty about future scaling might be a few fears that send a shiver down a manager’s spine. But your business is an organic entity that is evolving, growing, and potentially adapting from one business segment to another. That impacts the IT component of your business, and you don’t want it to eventually become part of the problem and not the solution. There might be a service you don’t have, or a platform that needs to be run more efficiently – any number of things. Sometimes an in-house IT professional will pitch building it internally from scratch. But when it comes to making the decision, the truth is that many CFOs and CEOs (understandably) don’t always know a lot about IT; in fact, sometimes they are downright scared of it!
What we see over and over again is a system built in-house that works pretty well – for a while. But as the lab grows, the system becomes clunky and outdated. Bugs need to be fixed, maintenance releases are required, and documentation all needs to be kept up with. Then many times, users adapt/accommodate the system through manual workaround processes that further slows things down. Future needs might not have been considered or maybe it was all done on a shoe-string budget. So now it’s taking a lot of time and money to maintain, and it appears that the only option is to replace it by building a custom software solution … or is that the only option?
To Build or Not to Build?
At U.S. HealthTek, a lot of what we do is building customized software solutions, so my next question might surprise you: Is there a product out there that already exists that can fit your need? Is there something “off-the-shelf” to save you time and money? If so, how does that measure up to the potential advantages of a custom-built solution? There are more options out there than you might realize, and it’s important to think outside the box of the lab world. Salesforce, for example, originally created as a CRM solution for industries, is a powerful automation and analytics platform that can be adapted for many uses, including applications and services in our lab industry.
We recommend that you look at building custom software only if it is determined that you have some kind of special need that’s not being met, or if that build will give you a specific competitive advantage; for example, a proprietary service or tool that will give you an edge over your competitors. That’s where you should spend your money in software development.
But by no means should you start there. Be sure you work with an experienced consultant who can explore all options, both internally and externally, to be sure you’re focusing your money and effort in the right direction. Part of our process is listening and fully understanding the problem that needs to be solved. If there’s an easier solution, we’ll suggest it. If not, we’ll discuss building a software solution in-house and what that means for your organization.
Friends, not Foes
In looking at a custom software solution, some think that they are going to build a product to take care of all their needs. Others think it won’t cost much money just to try.
Both are wrong.
It is human nature to be protective – even defensive – of one’s work. So it’s understandable when an internal IT team isn’t keen on outside consultants because they believe they can, and should, handle anything. At the same time, those in the C-Suite see that as a roadblock holding back business and feel an outside consulting team will make it better.
Both are right.
One reason to consider outside consultants is that often internal IT staffers are focused on a specific scope of view. They typically spend a lot of their time putting out fires, looking at what isn’t running well at that moment and fixing it to get through the week. And at no fault of theirs, they don’t always know what they don’t know. We will come into a situation like that with a clear understanding of “internal” (them) and “external” (us). The internal team knows the specifics better than anyone else. But we bring an outsider’s perspective, with experiences at many different companies, each with their own specific problems, challenges, and potential solutions. One key to success is attitude: We don’t walk in with all the answers. We just walk in with questions. Our goal is to quickly develop a working relationship with those who have been in the trenches and find solutions together. We leave having made friends.
What Is the ROI?
Buying or implementing solutions that already exist has clear advantages. It will always cost more to support your own software; but by buying off-the-shelf you’re putting support in someone else’s hands. However, if your plans are to develop something that adds clear value for your clients, that’s a smart place to put your money. Maybe it’s a new way of delivering custom reporting, a new customer portal that makes access to data easier and quicker, or a solution that’s improving efficiencies and resulting in faster turnaround times. So really the question becomes this: Is what you’re building providing additional value to your clients?
For software development, we recommend spending money that assures a strong ROI. To achieve that goal, we’ll do the analysis and create the specifications. We’ll project the scale of the business needs three to five years into the future. And know that we’ve seen it all – labs doing $5 million a year, others doing $1 billion a year – and everything in-between. We know how to focus on the immediate need and how to plan for the long run.
The IT lab is a crazy-complex world. There are a thousand moving parts, and not one piece of software can do everything. So, get as much information from as many sources as possible, and above all, be sure to work with a team that isn’t too quick to spend your money! And if there’s one person who comes at all of this first from the business perspective and secondly (and I mean a distant second) as an Information Technology expert, it’s our own Robert Negosian. Robert is as smart as he is blunt – but there’s nothing scary about him. He’s going to continue this conversation in the next blog, diving deeper and talking case studies. So stay tuned.