For those of you who have been in the business of IT may remember the controversial article by Nicholas Carr titled “IT Doesn’t Matter”. Understandably, many IT professionals, particularly those who enabled firms, such as investment banks, to achieve competitive advantage through IT, would contest the premise of the article. The article stated that IT as infrastructure technology was headed for commoditization and firms are overspending on their IT budgets.
Since then, that premise has to an extent been proven true. We have seen the advent of cloud computing, with IaaS/PaaS/SaaS solutions that have effectively commoditized IT infrastructure. Additionally, it has made it a game of lowering costs.
But there are two important caveats:
(1) IT is not a single monolithic commodity like electricity. And, areas of significant innovation has continued to give firms a competitive advantage and
(2) Areas such as UX and UI Design that are creative in nature and are not easily commoditized.
Of course, technology is advancing rapidly. It is not hard to foresee that computers one day would be able to read the human mind. They would be able to come up with information architectures that lend well to human thought processes!
But today, as a head of IT of your firm, and understanding that UX UI design is not a commodity; should you be building the skin of your new application? As expected, the answer is “it depends”. There are several factors that you should consider in making that decision.
Build or Buy Consideration in UX Design
- Strategic thrusts – is a fabulous UX UI design of the application critical for differentiation? For example, for a consumer app or portal, this may be true. But, maybe not so much for an enterprise application. If your strategy for growth depends on differentiating through convenience and ease of use; having intuitive workflows in your application becomes important. Then the next step is to consider whether such competencies exist in-house or not.
- Core competencies – you may deem that good UX UI designs are important for the new application, but is it a core competency of your organization to achieve this? In many software engineering or IT organizations, the core competencies may be in the backend technologies. These technologies are related to data storage, access, analytics, etc. These not necessarily lend to front-end application design. In such a case, it is likely that your organization is not keeping up with the latest design trends. And, a decision to build would be sub-optimal.
- Budget and opportunity costs – Having the budget for building or revamping the skin of an application is a prerequisite of course. Without that, you do not have a decision to make, as may be the case when one is trying to bootstrap the solution in a very early startup stage. However, even with a budget, you have to consider the implication of additional overhead costs with staffing as opposed to contracting the design work. Doing the latter may save you real costs. Moreover, it can save you the opportunity costs of not investing in the core functionality of the application.
- Pervasiveness of design needs – If it is a large firm and many projects have design needs, you gain economies of scale by having a design group. As this design team services many projects. However, for smaller firms, if the need is infrequent and based on initiatives from time to time, outsourcing makes more sense.
Whatever the source of the need for a fabulous UX UI design; whether it is critical to make a good first impression or that your customer support department is inundated with calls on how to use the application; the build vs buy decision is a common occurrence. Beyond considering the factors above, there are some additional practical aspects that make a buy decision more attractive. The design work is sufficiently standalone, which lends well to outsourcing, and the costs are not so high that it is hard to justify utilizing the services of a design firm given that the benefits are immediate and impactful.