Blog Article: Digital Experiences – Buy or Build?

When it comes to software implementation, one of the most common challenges faced by fitness and wellness operators is the decision to buy or build. Whether it’s a mobile app, online joining experience, or booking platform, organisations need to weigh various factors to determine whether off-the-shelf software or fully custom solutions represent the best route to achieving their objectives. Often, this is as much a strategic decision as it is a technical one.

Buying Software
The primary advantage of buying software lies in its immediacy and reliability. Off-the-shelf solutions are typically well tested, relatively quick to implement, and have lower upfront costs. Generally speaking, you also benefit from significant ongoing product development. An enterprise scale software platform, particularly one that is growing, will most likely be investing significant resources into new features and enhancements. Provided they are well aligned with your needs, their product roadmap may well outpace anything you could achieve through your own development.

However, off-the-shelf software can lack the customisation and flexibility needed to meet specific business requirements. Operators often find themselves adapting their processes to fit the software, rather than the other way around. For consumer-facing applications such as mobile apps, it can also be difficult to differentiate your business, since those new product features will often be made available to your competitors simultaneously.

Building Software
On the other hand, building custom software allows you to create a solution designed to meet precise business needs. When executed well, this approach can provide almost unlimited flexibility and the opportunity to create a competitive advantage through unique features that are not available in generic solutions. The opportunity to create intellectual property around custom software can also be appealing for digital-focused operators.

However, developing your own software is not without its challenges. The process can be time consuming and expensive and is inherently risky. Whether you’re working with an external development partner or building your own team, there is a constant risk of delays, cost overruns, or even project failure. While it can provide savings in ongoing licensing costs, custom software will often end up costing more to maintain than you initially anticipate.

A Third Option?
In recent years, the mass adoption of software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools has changed the way enterprise organisations implement software. According to BetterCloud, the average number of SaaS products used by companies has increased from 8 in 2015 to over 130 by 2023. This means many software providers have shifted their focus from providing a single platform that tries to solve as many of their customers’ problems as possible towards more verticalised, open products that solve specific problems extremely well, can be integrated with other solutions, and – more importantly – can often be customised.

This evolution has paved the way for a “best of both worlds” approach. At LeisureLabs, we aim, where possible, never to build something that already exists. In other words, our goal is to help our customers find the platform or platforms that will solve as many of their common problems as possible, allowing us to focus on building solutions for the ones that are truly unique. In many cases, when assessing whether to buy or build, the best option is to find a platform that meets up to 80% of your requirements, but more importantly, one that allows you to build your own solutions for the remaining 20%. When executed well, this combination delivers the speed and leverage of buying with the flexibility and competitive advantage that can be gained by building.

About Alex Peacock
Alex is the Founder of LeisureLabs – a full service digital transformation and software development agency focused on providing custom digital experiences for the fitness and leisure industry. 

With over two decades of experience in building and scaling companies across the fitness technology space, Alex was previously CEO of Netpulse, a leading provider of branded apps to fitness operators, which was acquired by EGYM in 2018.  Prior to Netpulse, he established and led Zoom Media’s operations in Europe for 10 years.

Alex is also a member of the ukactive Supplier Council and a technology advisor to a number of startup and scaleup organisations in the fitness and wellness sector.

This article was originally published on 20th June 2024 as part of the Beyond Activ Industry Opinion series