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Build or Buy


Companies have a number of options with regard to HSE-MIS systems.  Whether to Build or Buy, or some combination, is a question for any HSE-MIS solution.  There is no "cookie-cutter" solution. Each company must assess its needs, goals, current capabilities, and determine the best fit to meet business objectives.


 Key Concepts  
  • The cross-functional team and, specifically, the MIS team members are valuable resources for making the Build or Buy decision.

  • Use External Benchmarking to identify and evaluate best practices outside the company. 

  • The decision to Build or Buy should be made after careful evaluation of HSE requirements, recommendations from the MIS team members, and available products in the marketplace.

  • To make the Build or Buy decision, consider:
    • short- and long-term support requirements
    • availability and expertise of internal IT resources
    • the number of users and functional areas ultimately using the system
    • the time period or deadline for meeting the PLAN objectives
    • internal and opportunity costs of building vs. license and maintenance fee costs of buying
    • available documentation and training resources
    • flexibility or adaptability of business processes--can the business processes be changed?
  • Determine how well and to what extent off-the-shelf products or already implemented solutions (custom or off-the-shelf) satisfy business requirements.

 Practical Advice  

Consider the following when evaluating whether to build or buy a system:

  • Are there resources available in-house for project management, software development, hardware support, and long-term maintenance?
  • How much budget is available for the project? Can you effectively make a business case for the long-term value of a more expensive product?
  • How unique are the processes that the HSE-MIS will automate?
  • Does the MIS technology firm understand your HSE requirements and can they build a customized application to most closely meet your needs for a reasonable price?
  • Find the balance between your current process, what you need, and what is actually available to meet your needs.
  • Are resources available to respond to the timing of the need?
  • A custom developed program allows the company the opportunity to build exactly what they need, whereas a commercial application may not meet all of the company's requirements. It may not have the formats, input processes, or reporting capabilities the company needs; or, it may require the company to purchase functionality it doesn't need and will not use. On the other hand, the cost of a commercial application should be considerably lower that a custom application. However, this is not always true if the commercial application requires considerable modification.
  • Find out if the commercial software package can be sold by modules or smaller functional pieces. Negotiate license costs accordingly. Don't pay for a lot of commercial software functionality that you don't need and won't use.

Software Evaluation

  • Consider software and common business processes within the company that are already in place and evaluate whether looking at expanding the use of internal software may be more cost effective for your company then using off-the-shelf software.
  • What are the most important HSE business requirements the software must possess? Can it follow your Business Rules? No software will match exactly. A match of 70 percent or more is a reasonable goal.
  • Make a list of the technology requirements for the new software (web enabled, search, import, form output functions, etc.) Does the software product match the evaluating company's Technology Vision or current state? Is this an enterprise-wide solution or a focused solution?
  • Can the product be integrated into current systems? Will the product be able to accept production or plant floor data if already electronically available? Will the product be able to produce data to be transmitted electronically, if necessary?
  • Benchmark internally and externally with industry and agency contacts on software packages. Get advice from real users. Attend software company user group meetings. Investigate beyond sales staff.
  • Narrow the number of vendors that you will pursue based on user feedback.
  • Conduct a business evaluation – Are they developing under venture capital or are they working off of generated revenue? Check customer references. Ask your IT and accounting specialists to evaluate the vendors including their financial status or rating.
  • Involve the software purchasing function from the beginning. Allow them to share their expertise in negotiation and contract writing and include legal counsel in the final contract language.
  • Don’t ask software vendors to “come show you their product.” Using the requirements defined during the PLAN phase and the Business Rules defined during the DO phase, document an implementation scenario or task that is currently being done manually. Ask each of the vendors on your finalist list to solve the scenario and show you how it will meet your compliance and information needs. Develop a consistent set of questions based on functional requirements to ask each of the software vendors.
  • Make sure that software vendors are able to demonstrate the functionality beyond verbal assurance.
  • Develop an evaluation form for your cross-functional team to rank the products under consideration.  


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