Blog | Technology

Why Custom is Cuckoo

October 26, 2016

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enSYNC has been in the business of software service and development for 20 years. In that time, association management systems have evolved from clunky LAN-based software with DOS code interfaces to online, web-based portals that are member-facing and accessible to staff from anywhere anytime.

Yet still we hear of organizations attempting to create and develop their own AMS. And we have to ask, “Why.”

To build or to buy AMS 

We asked a long-time executive with a super smart IT staff what he felt about designing a custom solution vs purchasing an AMS backed by a development company. Alan Atwood, vice president of technology and information systems with the Texas Medical Association, laid it on the line and told us what his reaction would be if his staff suggested building a fully custom solution to serve as the foundation of their organization.

We loved his blunt perspectives and thought they hit it on the head. His take on a custom vs a purchased AMS:

  1. cuckooTime: It takes 3 to 4 times as long to complete a custom app than to implement an off-the-shelf app. That’s if everything goes well. An enterprise level AMS may take up to a year to get implemented. Do you have 3-4 years to develop your custom solution?
  1. Never all-in-one: No off-the-shelf solution does 100% of what you want, so why not use the 80% that works perfectly and use your IT staff to deal with the 20%.  Don’t purchase a system where you can’t do that.
  1. Staff changes: What happens if the existing IT staff leaves and you have a self-developed app?  Many organizations are so dependent upon that resource to support/modify it that if they leave (quit, retire, get fired) or are unavailable (medical leave, pregnancy, etc.), they have to look at a new solution or hire costly 3rd party consultants to assist.  With something like a name-brand AMS there are lots of folks that can be used to help should something unexpected happen.
  1. Why try and reinvent the wheel?  Many of these companies have 20+ years of tweaking every aspect of the AMS, so that you’ll never build a system as robust unless you modify it for many years.  They have thousands of customers across the world – are your requirements really that unique?
  1. Cost:  Many orgs think that the AMS purchase price and ongoing maintenance is too expensive.  How much will it truly cost you to develop an app if you include true costs (salary, benefits, overhead, lost productivity on other applications)?  How much does one IT resource cost you annually?  What about documentation, training, help desk support?  You have to include ALL the costs in a comparison.

Weighing the options

Alan has certainly summarized what you need to consider as you weigh a “build vs buy” decision. Are AMS systems perfect? No, but taking the foundation of a highly developed product and using software engineers to tweak it for specialized services or components is where we advocate most organizations head.

API interfaces are common development tools today. These are pieces of code that tie one system to another – for example an advocacy tool with your AMS or an event management tool back to your AMS. Tying together two expertly designed products and putting them to work for you is more cohesive and robust than a software solution developed from scratch.

Are you still thinking custom development of an AMS is right for you? All we can say is, “stop, take a deep breath, and call us.” We want to talk you down. 

Mark Jones, CAE

Mark Jones, CAE

Mark’s enthusiasm spreads wherever he goes. His specialty is learning all about your organization and sharing ideas for best practices.