Mobile app build / 5 min read

DIY or outsource when building an app?

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By Graham / April 29, 2021

So, you want an app. What are the options available? DIY or outsource? Pros and cons?

1. Learn how to build it yourself
2. Commission a developer to build it for you
3. Use a platform solution and brand a generic app in return for a monthly licence fee

Let’s look into the details as business requirements are different:

1. Building an app yourself

If the app is central to your business success it makes sense to build it in-house. It is a capital investment and your business-plan will need to include not only the cost of the build, but also the development team to support, upgrade and maintain it.

Building an app yourself can be very expensive

Developers have holidays, get sick and leave their jobs – so you need a minimum viable team to even start. Don’t forget that they also tend to specialise and do either Android or iOS. So you arguably need a minimum of one developer for each platform, plus someone to cover when they are away.

Apps should not be confused with websites. You cannot build them, put them on a server and call it a day. As any iOS and Android phone user knows, you are always being plagued to install and update to a new software release. Many of these updates have implications for the app developers, so its a bit of a never-ending story keeping apps current with the iOS and Android platform changes.

But, provided you are happy with the costs and human overhead, building it yourself puts you directly in control of your app.

Assuming each developer costs you £50,000 a year, with heat, light, power, desk space, recruitment, HR, licences, technical infrastructure, machines and ancilliaries the starter cost of your app is probably around £200,000 a year.

– You want to own and control the app and it’s critical to the business
– You are in total control

– Requires a hefty capital budget year-on-year
– Maintenance and support never go away
– You have to keep a development team for as long as you have the app

2. Outsourcing your app build

Unlike your in-house team, you can negotiate a fixed-price contract with an outsourced development house. You are much more likely to get your app for the budget you planned close to a timescale you set.

If the app does not meet expectations you have leverage by withholding payment.

There are some good outsourcing companies and some terrible ones. Be aware, many sub-contract their work, so you don’t know who is actually writing the code. Your app might look good on the outside, but be like a leaky house with poor construction.

Once the builders have been paid and left you have to pick up the pieces. And you also need to find someone to support, maintain and upgrade it.

If support is not carried out by the same team which built the app you can be sure that your maintenance developers will never tire of telling you what a bunch of monkeys built it in the first place and how their job is impossible with all the shoddy code they have inherited…

– You can negotiate a fixed cost and time
– You can go to tender and take references
– If they have experience building apps like the one you want you will benefit from their expertise

– It takes a long time to find the outfit that is right for you and you may make several false starts
– If they don’t offer a maintenance and support contract you are left with a problem how to maintain you app
– It’s hard to be sure that the work done for you is up to standard and will stand the test of time. Even good organisations rush jobs at times

3. Platform solutions – licensing a generic app

If you work in a sector where companies have similar business models (like publishing, accountancy, law, or HR), it’s likely there will be software houses who have ready-built platform solutions. These will offer out-of-the-box solutions in return for a licence fee.

All you need to do is: put your logo on it, brand the home screen, customise the colours and add your content. Your app is live for as long as you pay your licence fee and there is nothing to worry about because the platform owners keep it up-to-date with iOS and Android upgrades.

Downside is, how much will you have to compromise? With limited customisation options you are not really getting 100% what you want. Most platforms work on volume, so it’s take it or leave it. And you can wait forever for customer support…

It’s financially tempting, but is it going to be good enough to proudly bear your name?

OK, here’s the sell. We have thought about all the pros and cons above and have a solution which has all the best bits of a custom-built app, with the advantages of a licensed app. Here’s what you get:

There is a caveat. We don’t just build any app.
We focus on apps that can share many of the same components as possible and run on our existing technology stack. That means support, maintenance and upgrades can be carried out across all apps generically, because they share the same building materials.

Our expertise and functionality sets are around delivering content and communications. Publications, journals, magazines, learning materials, brochures, training manuals, newsletters, video and audio casts – anything designed to engage an audience.

It’s a wide scope and you will be surprised how much it includes. Rather than try to second-guess if we can support the app you want to build and share your idea.

– Cost-effective
– Quick to market
– Ongoing support and maintenance costs are known

– You'll have to compromise (but we’ll find a way to make it work!)

Do you have an idea that needs some exploration? If so, contact us for a free two-hour session!


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