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Buy, Build, or Leverage? Reassessing the Value of Third Party Relationships

Posted on May 6, 2009 by Zach

Recently, Elastic Path presented a great webinar on the topic of Buy, Build, or Leverage? It was a really great webinar which presented some great information and posed some interesting questions. Now of course Elastic Path is an eCommerce vendor and therefore certainly have some reasons to push their own product, however, overall I thought it was very interesting and that they did a good job of presenting the points and issues from all sides.

Since the Gordian Project uses a custom platform there are many instances where our problems and solutions can get technical in nature and be solved by an array of solutions. While our platform is mostly custom we have certainly assimilated solutions which we would rather buy or leverage than build such as LivePerson, PowerReviews, Google Analytics, Mcafee Secure, etc. All of these solutions we decided not to build, find a partner and then integrate their solution into our platform, each provides value for us in its own unique way. Most of these solutions were relatively easy to come to an agreement on, integrate and begin using. The webinar does a great job addressing this and I applaud them on their great presentation.

This webinar got me thinking about possible issues though and what we have faced in the past. What happens when things do not work out the way you intend or a solution is no longer providing the value you are looking for? Our saga in this regard has been the site search and merchandising elements of our website. When our website was first created it had custom site search functionality which worked well enough, nothing spectacular, no killer bells and whistles. After several years with this solution we decided that something more robust was needed, preferably with better search, marketing and merchandising capabilities. After looking at all of the options we decided to take on a 3rd party vendor who was considered best of breed in this field. After all negotiations were finished, and documents were inked, we were able to begin the task of integrating the solution, which was no small task. 

The solution worked especially well for most of our commitment with our partner, but issues with scalability arose when taking into account multiple websites.  Product upgrades on their part, required further development on our part became frequent and with less and less accurate notice.  Website changes on our part required cooperation on their part.  While there were few there were enough reliability issues and while any downtime is inopportune, two weeks before Christmas can really hurt an internet retailer.  Finally, there was a hefty price tag associated with the service.  In looking at all of these pieces together, the perceived value of the service began to dwindle. 

With all of that in mind, late last year we decided to forgo renewing our contract and instead decided to build something in-house.  While our solution would have fewer bells and whistles the resolution would be more than sufficient for our current needs, and far better than what we had initially. After some intense planning and development, using what we had learned, taking notes from what industry leaders were doing, and utilizing the research available to us, we created, what is in my opinion a pretty great solution.  It’s our own, and we have full control. While we continue to make tweaks it has been a very positive experience, and it turned out to be a financially smart decision as well.



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