One of the most frequently asked questions that I am asked by my clients using Salesforce is whether or not they should custom build an app. Building an app is a lot like building a house. If you custom build, you can get absolutely anything you want—Travertine floors, neon lights, and a fire pole from your bedroom straight into the kitchen—but it’s probably going to cost you more and take longer than the pre-fab house you’re looking at buying down the street.
The Salesforce platform is incredibly robust. It can be tailored to meet the needs of the end user–either through customizations applied directly to an installation of Salesforce, or apps available from the Salesforce AppExchange. To date, there are nearly 3,000 different apps available that have been installed nearly 3.5 million times.
Even with so many apps available, it isn’t uncommon for businesses to find that none of them fits their exact needs. When this happens, some companies try to change their processes to fit apps that have already been created, while other companies choose to custom build their own. It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of a custom built app. It’ll meet your every and exact need. It’ll be one-of-a-kind, and since it will obviously be better than anything on the AppExchange already, you could sell it to recoup your costs. However, just like building a custom home, it’s easy to go from a dream house to a nightmare. Before you wind up in the app version of the Money Pit, here are five things you need to know.
1. Can you afford to go over budget?
Take a minute and really think about your budget. Once you take a long, hard look at it, ask yourself how far you can afford to go over budget. Besides the initial development costs, you’ll also need to consider expenses related to maintenance and support when you custom build an app. And you’ll need to consider the very real possibility that someone with a lot of knowhow leaves your project before finishing it.
2. Can you afford to put a lot of time into this project?
Your business is always moving. What’s your time frame? Do you need a quick move in date, or can you wait a few months to put on the crown molding? Similarly, can you afford to wait for an app to be built? Often, buying a configurable product on the AppExchange gives you a faster, more effective solution than building a completely new solution in-house. It also saves you the hassle of dealing with frustrated users who don’t have the tools they need. If you have to go custom built, give yourself a lot of time. It’s not uncommon for these projects to go over their initial estimates.
3. Do you have the right team?
You probably work with great people, but are they the right people for this? Take a minute and consider where the time and talents of your team members will be best utilized. Are you asking your real estate agent to dig the foundation of your house? Is the landscape architect doing your contracts? If your team would be better utilized elsewhere, consider purchasing from the AppExchange. But if they have the time and talent that you need, it might be worth it to build. Keep in mind that if you decide to build, then you have to rely on a group of admins and developers on your team to build something completely from scratch. This is risky because you may not get exactly what you want, which may ultimately cause you to spend more money to fix it. When you hand-craft software, there are a lot of kinks to smooth out, and a lot of time is required for the project.
4. Are you sure this app doesn’t already exist?
How much searching did you do for the app you want? Did you check with the Salesforce Success Community (here’s an awesome blog article about the Salesforce Community here)? With over 3,000 apps (and counting) in the AppExchange, what you’re looking for may already exist. If it does, why build it again? It’s like paying double for a custom house that looks just like the tract house down the street. However, the app that already exists may not have all the features that you want. Or it may not be as user friendly as what your customers need. In the end, you may end up purchasing more apps to supplement the features you need, which is costly and time-consuming.
The Salesforce platform itself is very user friendly. You don’t need to have a fully qualified team of admins and developers to build on the platform. The Salesforce platform has been specifically designed to allow users without extensive coding experience to build something on your platform using a drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG interface.
5. Will your app play well with others?
How many other apps do you have installed? Will your new app cause issues with any of your existing ones? Have you ever been in a house where people have added on and on, until the house is an inexplicable series of corridors and rooms without a nice layout or flow? The same can happen with apps. Once you start adding, whether the app is custom or premade, it can get ugly quickly.
So back to the original question: “Should I buy an app from the AppExchange, or should I custom build one on the Force.com platform?” There are a lot of advantages to a custom-built application. If built correctly, it should meet your exact needs, give you a competitive advantage, and increase efficiency. In the end, it really depends on you. Take a look at the five questions listed in this article. Can you honestly answer “Yes” to them all? If so, your dream app may be closer than you thought.