How UX informs IT leaders' build versus buy decisions

IT leaders grapple with build versus buy decisions when determining whether to buy software and technology from an external party or develop it in-house. UX adds another critical element to this equation.
Written by Patrick Gray, Contributor
Image: iStock/Zoran Zeremski

Corporate technology users have become increasingly demanding, particularly around the user experience (UX) provided by internal and external tools. Like it or not, your user base is now comparing everything from your ERP system to the corporate intranet to the experience delivered by class leaders like Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Whether it's beautiful and efficient interfaces, class-leading integration with other services, or simple provisioning and setup, the era when UX barely registered on IT-related decisions has ended. This focus on UX has created new challenges for IT leaders, particularly as they try to navigate the classic decision of whether to build a new platform internally or purchase off-the-shelf (OTS) software.

It's not just about pretty graphics

Many people in the technical fields mistake UX for 'pretty graphics', assuming that all the breathless praise heaped on class leaders is related to nice colors and fancy fonts; UX is ultimately about how easily and intuitively a task can be accomplished using a technology. This might mean eliminating screens and keyboards in exchange for a wearable device, or even stripping out superfluous graphics for a lean and task-oriented UX, similar to sites like Craigslist.

There are plenty of beautifully designed interfaces that are difficult to navigate and ultimately frustrating to the end user, so ensure that lovely interface is not merely skin deep. When considering the various build and buy options, if possible, test the application or mockups with the user base to validate your assumptions and quantify the UX components.

Can you separate the user portion of the experience?

You likely have highly integrated and capable tools already embedded in your organization. While a superior UX could be built or bought, the overall cost of integration could outweigh any benefit.

UX can often be layered on top of existing applications, and UX can ultimately be delivered by standalone components that are subject to a separate build versus buy decision. Perhaps a mobile interface exists for your custom ERP, which can quickly integrate the new components and deliver a superior UX while maintaining decades of business logic. Or, maybe two months of in-house development can create a highly-optimized UX atop a package that delivers superior technical functionality but only a rudimentary UX.

Quantify the benefits of an improved UX

Like any feature or capability, UX also has a cost and a benefit that can be defined and quantified. An application as rudimentary as time and expense might seem a poor candidate for a high-quality UX, but if it's a tool used by the preponderance of your employees on a regular basis, there could very well be a valid financial case that improving ease of use through an improved UX could translate to significant time and cost savings.

Training can also be significantly impacted by UX. The average worker is exposed to thousands of new technologies, most of which he or she can quickly learn how to use without a manual, a class, or online training. While monies spent building or buying a high-quality UX might seem like an unnecessary expense, when stacked against a costly training program, it might become an absolute bargain.

Move UX to the top line

It can be tempting to consider UX as a second- or third-string criterion when evaluating the build versus buy decision; however, that is a grave and potentially costly mistake. Building or buying a tool that's functionally rich and provides superlative integration will do little to offset expensive training and user support that continues through the life of the application versus foregoing a feature or a one-time integration cost.

If you make no other change to your build versus buy evaluation process, move UX considerations from a low-value criterion to a top-flight component. UX can and should be a driving factor toward buying, building, or creating a hybrid approach as you consider new technologies for your organization.

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