Build vs. Buy: A Never-Ending Dilemma

Here are the key factors to consider when making a build vs. buy decision.

It’s that time – you’ve identified a need for a stronger knowledge database. It’s tempting to rely on your own team of talented developers to build a solution in-house; however, the pros and cons of build vs. buy must be carefully evaluated.

Here are the key factors to consider when making a build vs. buy decision.


Before building an in-house solution, consider your company’s level of expertise. For example, does your company understand how to build a Q&A community with the features necessary for engagement and ultimate success? Ask yourself these three important questions:

  1. Is this something that we can do well?
  2. Do we know what features make a community successful, as well as what technology we will need to adequately onboard our users?
  3. Does our company have an in-house expert who knows the ins and outs of online community development and can build a better product for cheaper than a company who specializes in it?


Your customers, employees, and partners need to rest assured that their data is not at risk of being compromised. Losing the trust of key stakeholders is not something that you can easily repair. Encryption, firewalls, backups, disaster recovery, incident response, and keeping pace with changing privacy policies at a national and global level need to be at the forefront of your decision. Have you accounted for these needs?

In addition to these security protocols, what else does your company need – a single or multi-tenant server, SSO, global hosting, cookies, CSRF, or XSS protection?


In IT, scalability can be defined as the linear comparison between cost and capacity. As your community grows, how will your needs change and what will it cost to sustain?

Are you looking at cloud or on-premise hosting? On-premise hosting requires servers, operating software, continuity of service, maintenance and updates, and physical space requirements. All of these items take significant time and planning with heavy consideration of your company’s vision and future goals. Frequently, companies have to plan years in advance to ensure that they are keeping up with their community’s requirements. 

Integration, Availability, and Performance

Frequent outages, low bandwidth, and latency can kill a community – or kill software in general. It’s important that your community maintains consistent uptime with speeds that keep your users happy and coming back.

Larger sites with more information to index have a tendency to have slower functions. Slower searches make it difficult for users to find what they need. Slower page loads add to the frustration.  Do you have a plan to combat these issues? What about the availability of your solution to integrate with databases, plugins, tools, and utility add-ons?   


Examine the impact of the project planning process. You must fully understand the needs of your company and community, required features and hardware and software requirements before developing a project calendar. What kind of impact will this have on your community? What happens if you run into delays? Companies may dedicate resources to building such a project, but they cannot tell when another priority may arise and take precedence over it.

Customer Support

Critical to the success of any build vs. buy decision is an analysis of what happens when something goes wrong. Does your firm have a support protocol and what department(s) inherits that responsibility? What if something goes wrong with your code, who have you identified to help? What if one of your users has reported an issue, whose responsibility is it to handle that?

The cost of both developer and user support cannot be overlooked. And just as scalability increases the cost of adding users, it also increases the cost of supporting those users (new customer support reps, new managers, and equipment).

Total Cost of Ownership

Now, let’s put everything together and answer the magic question – how much is this going to cost?  Developing a solution in-house means that you need to consider the cost of a developer, the revenue lost from diverting their attention away from other products, the hardware and software costs, security concerns, costs associated with scalability, support and training, upkeep and maintenance, QA, and more.

Also, something to consider, what if the developer who built this left? His or her knowledge would be lost and you’d have to hire a new developer to try and pick up the pieces. Is it worth the upfront costs of purchasing a solution to forgo the headache, risk, and expenses of DIY?


It’s tempting to build your own solution, but there are many criteria to consider. If nothing else, return to the original question – does your company have an in-house expert who knows the ins and outs of online community development and can build a better product for cheaper than a company who specializes in it? Let that answer guide your decision as you fully evaluate the pros and cons of build vs. buy.

To learn more about build vs. buy, check out our white paper.