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Building Software In-House vs. Off-the-Shelf Solutions for Local Authorities

Technology plays a vital role in local government operations. But when it comes to software, a critical question arises: build or buy? This blog post explores the pros and cons of developing software in-house versus utilizing a configurable off-the-shelf solution like Rico.

When In-House Development Might Be Right

There are still situations where building your own software can be advantageous:

  • Truly Unique Needs: If your specific use case is unlike anything available on the market, an in-house solution might be the only option. To date, planners needs have been poorly served by more general approach softwares so this has been valid. New software like Rico is specifically targeted at planning assessments and decision-making workflows so may change this.

  • Upfront Cost vs. Subscription:  While ongoing maintenance costs still exist, some local authorities may prefer an upfront investment over a subscription model.

The Case Against Building In-House

Developing custom software can be a tempting option, but it's vital to understand the hidden costs. Here are some key considerations:

  • High Development Costs: Initial development seems affordable, but the later stages, crucial for stability and polish, are often underestimated, leading to significant cost overruns.

  • Ongoing Expenses: Software is never truly "finished." Bug fixes, changing requirements, and security updates require constant maintenance, which translates to long-term financial commitments.

  • User Involvement and Time: Writing a perfect requirements document is a myth. Ensuring a custom solution meets your needs requires ongoing user engagement, which can be time-consuming for your team.

  • Limited Uniqueness:  Many local authority needs are not unique. Off-the-shelf software allows you to leverage existing solutions, share development costs with other users, and benefit from ongoing improvements by the vendor.

  • Slower Response Times: In-house development means relying on your own IT team's availability for fixes. Off-the-shelf solutions, particularly those offered as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), often come with dedicated support teams and faster response times.

The Rise of Low-Code/No-Code Solutions

It's important to consider the growing availability of low-code/no-code development platforms. These tools allow for some customization of off-the-shelf solutions without requiring extensive coding expertise. This can help bridge the gap between pre-built software and in-house development for specific user needs. Rico allows planners to adjust workflows and templates to their needs with no coding input required.

The Takeaway

By carefully weighing the pros and cons outlined above, local authorities can make informed decisions about software procurement. Off-the-shelf solutions like Rico offer numerous advantages, including cost-efficiency, faster deployment, and ongoing support. However, for truly unique needs or domains without much ongoing change, in-house development might be necessary. Regardless of the chosen path, local authorities must factor in the total cost of ownership, including development, maintenance, and ongoing user support.

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