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Off the Shelf or Bespoke Surveying Software?

Should you Build or Buy? The King Brothers weigh the pros and cons of each.

Nowadays, if you're not using software to create survey reports, you'll be left in the dust by your competitors ‚Äď they'll be able to undercut you at every opportunity and still make higher profits. ¬†

And if you're still using pen and paper? Well, that's a fast-track to failure. All those hours manually writing reports, could be spent winning new business. And winning more business is precisely what your competitors will be doing.  

So, now that you're convinced of the merits of software for creating survey reports, what options do you have?

Build or Buy?

The first thing to ask yourself ‚Äď is the surveying software on the market is suitable for your needs? And then the next question becomes, should I build or buy?

For most companies, the logical choice is to buy (or rather license) software that already exists. You understand why soon.

But what if you don't like the available options? Or what if you need something more bespoke? You could build the software in-house. After all, you are experts in the subject...

Building your own software

Let's cut to the chase - bespoke software is expensive. So developing your own software isn't an option for small surveying companies with limited resources.

With the cost being so high, this option is really only suitable for larger companies like Lucion, who have gone down the bespoke software route with great success.

It's potentially lucrative

Developing their in-house surveying software, NexGen helped make Lucion one of the biggest asbestos surveying companies in the UK. We know first-hand that their margins are fantastic.

And since our co-founder David King built the NexGen platform, he saw how the software he developed helped Lucion grow from around 40 staff to over 300.

The reason was that Lucion was able to turn surveys around quickly. And they could solve the problems that were holding them back as a business.

You'll end up running TWO businesses

Developing software for your surveying company is potentially a great option if you have lots of resources. However, the choice is a risky one. You'll essentially be running two companies;

  • ‚ÄćA surveying business:
    is operations-centric - job-based profits, KPIs, staff training, fleet management, sales, marketing etc.
    A software development business (with one customer):

    is wildly different. In fact, you'll find that there are few transferrable skills from your core business that you can lean on. Which means finding specialists, and integrating them into your company.

The reason we split it out like this, is that software development is very different to surveying:

We've seen companies develop their own software in a few different ways:

  • You have a tech-savvy employee who reckons they can do it
  • You can employ a software developer
  • You have a few software engineers in your network to ask
  • You want to outsource to India / Poland / Malaysia
  • You hire a development company

This seems pretty straightforward - you know what you want and you have the budget. How hard can it be? Frankly, the pitfalls are too numerous to re-iterate.

Pros and Cons of developing software

Advantages:

  • You can realise your vision for perfect software
  • Your existing staff can help fine-tune the software
  • Potential long-term strategic benefits
  • The software is an asset to the company
  • You could become the next Lucion... except better!

Disadvantages:

  • It's hard
  • Slow to setup - 1yr to develop something (anything) you can use
  • Slow to maintain
  • Very expensive
  • High risk
  • You may end up with a sub-standard product
  • Other products will outpace you
  • Are you confident about the quality?¬†Is it secure?
  • You'll need to manage a technical team
  • Key-man dependency - what happens if your rock star developer leaves for Google?
  • Additional staff overheads - not cheap ones either
  • It's hard to find and retain good developers

Buying software (or rather, licensing)

The most sensible approach for most surveying companies is to license an existing off-the-shelf software product.

Finding the right software

Over the last decade, surveyors have had little choice when it comes to surveying and reporting software.

TEAMS and Alpha Tracker¬ģ are two products which have historically dominated the asbestos surveying market. These companies have become well-known names in the industry.

Other products have started to emerge in this space, including Flow Mobile Surveying. These new products give surveyors more choice, and the ability to create high-quality survey reports, faster.

Using an existing software platform like Flow Mobile Surveying, TEAMS, or Alpha Tracker¬ģ is the right choice for the majority of surveying companies. You can get on with your surveying work, and let software experts develop and maintain the technology. ¬†

Think of it this way. Partnering up with an existing provider is like employing specialists, without having to worry about managing them. You can focus on your core services and provide high-quality surveys. As you work on your business, software experts are continually developing your software.

Pros and Cons of licensing software

Advantages:

  • Low risk - you can switch products easily
  • Low cost
  • Stress-free
  • No additional staff overheads
  • Get started quickly
  • No need to hire or manage specialists
  • Highly secure

Disadvantages:

  • You may have to compromise on your vision
  • Less control over development

Closing Thoughts

At Flow Mobile Surveying, we're in a unique position to understand the differences between bespoke and off-the-shelf.

Unless you're a large business with significant cash reserves, developing your own software is usually a poor choice. The best option is (almost always) to use an existing software product.

  • If you opt to build - find engineers you can trust and commit to the long haul.
  • If you opt to buy - find a product that gives you value

See Our Guide to Choosing Asbestos Survey Software