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August 11, 2022

Summer Read Along: A Seat At The Table | Chapter 8 – Build Versus Buy

By Lucy Softich

Cover of A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility by Mark Schwartz, in which we discuss build versus buy, and why in-house products may be the new norm.In this series of blog posts, follow along as we revisit Mark Schwartz’s book A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of AgilityFive years after its publication, it’s still highly relevant and chock full of tips, tactics, and learnings. Join us as we follow along with Online Marketing Assistant Lucy Softich as she reads through the book for the first time. Make sure you start with the introduction post!


In Chapter 8: Build Versus Buy, Mark makes a radical suggestion: it is actually better to build an IT product in-house than to buy it off the shelf. I know, I was shocked, too.

That was Then

In the past, it was a long, arduous task to create a custom product. It was also costly, and usually your in-house team lacked the specific knowledge to do the best possible job. As long as there was an existing product on the market, it made sense to buy it and adjust it for your needs. It may have included some features you didn’t need, and it may have lacked some that you did. But nine times out of ten, it was the smart move.

As Mark explains, those times have changed.

Today’s choice is no longer really between build and buy. It is between quickly assembling best-practice frameworks with continuous user feedback and then continuing to adapt the system over time as the business changes versus buying an undefined stream of future services from a vendor who doesn’t know your business and doesn’t have financial incentives to support you.

This is Now

It has become much easier to build custom software in-house than ever before. There are more robust coding languages and more available best-practice guides to get us going. We no longer need to try to fit our needs around a pre-made system. We don’t need to rely on an outside service for maintenance and upgrades or risk going with a vendor whose needs don’t align with our own.

In Chapter 7: Enterprise Architecture, Mark discussed how it has become the CIO’s job to maintain the EA as an asset and ensure it runs as smoothly and flexibly as possible. Part of that smoothness comes down to simplicity. You don’t want to clog things up with features you don’t need. You want something that is built for your very specific needs. Who better to do that than your own team?

The Future is Virtualized

Much of the traditional role of IT, maintaining hardware, has been replaced by modern conveniences like the Cloud. Software is the name of the game now, according to Mark, and these days, software is cheap. It’s relatively easy to change and control software. With so much power at your fingertips, why not use it to create exactly the product you and your team need? If it doesn’t work, you can always change it yourself.

Jump to a Chapter

Introduction & Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Kept from the Table
Chapter 3: A Nimble Approach to the Table
Chapter 4: Planning
Chapter 5: Requirements
Chapter 6: Transformation
Chapter 7: Enterprise Architecture
Chapter 8: Build Versus Buy
Chapter 9: Governance and Oversight
Chapter 10: Risk
Chapter 11: Quality
Chapter 12: Shadow IT
Chapter 13: The CIO’s Place at the Table & Chapter 14: Exhortation and Table Manners 

- About The Authors

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