A Digital DIY Dilemma

Five Reasons Agencies Should Opt for a Software Partner

Thomas Mullen
November 30, 2016

There was a time -- back when PCs were beige and "java" mostly referred to coffee -- that building in-house software was the go-to staple of any dynamic, forward-thinking organization. If a corporate enterprise or government agency identified a problem that could be better solved with a computer program, they did the proactive thing and either hired or assigned an in-house developer (or five) to build it.

Like buying Palm Pilots for the entire staff, this made sense at the time. After all, computer coding was still fairly primitive and Silicon Valley was almost singularly fixated on putting a "dot-com" behind large traditional institutions. Simply put, there just weren't enough specialized software companies building digital tools for an organization's many different needs.

All of that has, of course, changed. Every organization leader now has a wide range of reasonably priced enterprise solutions at their fingertips courtesy of today's robust startup culture -- from tech solutions for budgeting and customer relationship management to, of course, public comment software. Below are five reasons why it might make sense to engage an outside software partner on your next project instead of tackling it in-house.

Partnership Has Its Privileges

The growth of the Software as a Service (SaaS) industry has been one of the biggest tech evolutions of the past decade -- and it's just getting started. In 2013, SaaS-based solutions had grown from a baseline of zero to represent 16.6 percent of the overall enterprise solutions market, according to a study from International Data Corporation. By 2018, they're expected to represent 27.8 percent. One big reason for this growth is that companies, which have long relied on financial and strategic alliances with outside entities to address complicated business matters, continue to see the benefit of applying this same principle to their increasingly complex software needs. In the same way the airline industry relies on vendors like Boeing and Airbus to provide it with labor-intensive, cutting-edge technology, the ever-changing software industry has reached a point of complexity and robustness that engaging an outside partner who specializes in providing a specific software service simply proves to be the more beneficial approach. An outside software partner has both the resources and clear motivation to deliver your project, can take the burden of launching and maintaining a major software application off your IT department, and has the critical forward-looking perspective to ensure its solution best serves your mission as it evolves into the future. And while some organizational leaders may still opt for the seemingly low-cost option of delegating software development to their in-house IT department, this strategy has become increasingly counter-intuitive as software grows more complex and harder to maintain.

Outside Software is More Cost-Effective

Anyone who's undertaken a DIY project at home can appreciate the irony of personally tackling that deck-building project to save a buck or two -- only to have it turn into a money pit that you multiply in cost and ultimately end up hiring out for anyway. Making this mistake in your backyard can be chalked up to a lesson learned; making it at work could be an organizational disaster. And if you're planning to build your own specialized software for the long term, the unseen costs are enormous: training, hardware, server space, security certificates -- to say nothing of the constant updates to fit an ever-changing computing environment. Rather than putting all these costs on your agency, investing in an outside software solution makes financial sense because these costs are already baked into that company's bottom line and distributed across many different customers, creating huge economies of scale. But the benefits of engaging a software partner go far beyond the financial, which leads us to our next point...

Competition, Customer Input Ensure Improvements

When you join with an outside software partner, you're not just getting the ease-making package pitched to you during that initial demo. You're getting their full team of dedicated and responsive technology professionals who have staked their livelihoods to the ongoing success of their solution. Their jobs -- alongside their company's viability -- depend solely on providing their clients the most powerful software possible in the most efficient manner. To borrow a completely overused analogy, software is like a shark. If it's not constantly moving forward, it dies. Apple doesn't put out a new version of iTunes every four months because they like people reading their licensing agreement. They do it because the computing environment is fluid, and staying one step ahead of it is critical to any software maker's viability. Computers, mobile technology, and bandwidth are on a full sprint to the future -- and only the software providers that run this race successfully on a daily basis will survive. Just as importantly, the products of your SaaS partner also benefit from another key source of invaluable input: their other clients. In the same way a software creator is able to spread its expenses across dozens of different customers, it is likewise able to glean a veritable treasure trove of improvement-shaping information from the very people who use its software. By regularly implementing those concepts, your software partner is essentially ensuring that your solution is constantly crowdsourced, employing the greatest hits of its clients' big ideas and delivering them all right to your door.

It's a Workforce Multiplier

Make no mistake: constructing powerful, lasting software is a full-time job that never really ends. Procuring an outside software solution enables your IT department to put its full attention on the mission-critical support functions they were hired for and eliminates a whole host of other down-river workforce drains -- from lengthy project planning sessions to budget discussions to time-intensive senior staff meetings spent tracking that project's development and implementation. In an age where organizations are running leaner than ever, the idea of tasking a team of your most critical employees with reverse engineering an already available software product runs contrary to every business trend and efficiency principle being currently observed. Sure, the do-it-yourself approach may work for a simple software application with only a few functions. But for anything bigger, your team is almost always better off working hand-in-hand with an outside software provider who is only too happy to get "into the weeds" precisely so their agency partners can keep their eyes on their own critical tasks. After all...

Software Companies Love Making Software

We, like many other software makers, truly love what we do. But more importantly, we want you to love it too. That's why we spend our nights, weekends, and countless office hours working on ways to make our software sharper, faster and just plain better. And, at SmartComment at least, not a single minute of this work shows up on an agency invoice -- because we don't work that way. Our digital comment management solutions are tailored specifically for each client, and delivered and maintained without any additional development fees. Instead, the passion that drives us to create the world's most powerful digital solution for collecting, analyzing and managing public comments belongs to all of our clients, whose ideas we are eager to implement and share with other organizations looking to improve the innovation and public accessibility of their public comment periods. We absolutely know the great things your IT staffers are capable of building on their own. But we also know the even greater solutions that can be achieved by working as partners with a shared passion for improving the way agencies and their various publics interact.