Build VS Buy: Process Automation

Process automation is taking the business world by storm with 84% of IT decision-makers planning to increase investment in automation. But while leaders agree that process automation is quickly becoming a necessity, the wide range of different options available can make it challenging to determine the best fit.

To help you make the right choice for your organisation, we’ve gathered some of the key arguments in the “build versus buy” debate.


Price remains one of the biggest factors in purchase decisions. While building or commissioning a bespoke solution may come with a higher upfront cost, you are getting a custom product that you then own. In turn, licensing an off-the-shelf automation solution means that you’re effectively paying someone a monthly fee to use their software. While these monthly payments are smaller than the one-time price tag of a bespoke build, you’re locked into them for as long as you wish to use the solution.

Licensing agreements rarely work on a monthly rolling basis, and it’s not uncommon to see minimum terms of up to 24 months. It’s also good to keep in mind that if you scale with off-the-shelf automation software, your licensing fees will also increase.


A shift from a manual process to an automated one is seen by some as a leap of faith. Is a solution as accurate as your best employee? After all, what’s the point of automating something if you still need to review things manually? Reassuringly, you can expect well-developed process automation software to beat the human eye when it comes to accuracy.

But of course, not every solution and setup will have the same success rates. This is where the build versus buy debate gets interesting, as the determining variable is you. While there is no doubt that good ready-made automation products exist, they just simply aren’t built with your data, needs, and existing workflows in mind.

So while a “plug and play” solution is attractive in theory, unless your processes and data collection methods aren’t already set up to suit that system perfectly, you’re not reaching your potential.

Fit and Need

Depending on your priorities, you may wish to automate a single process or a whole host of tasks. More often than not though, teams are acutely aware of a specific task that gulps up hours, if not days each month. In these situations, an off-the-shelf solution may actually end up becoming a pricier alternative. As you’re buying software designed to suit as many customers as cheaply as possible, you may end up paying for a lot of features that you simply don’t need. Worse still, the features you do need might not even be present.

Regardless of what your situation is, a custom process automation solution “does what it says on the tin”. It’s custom. Naturally, this means that the solution is developed with your problem in mind, and every penny you spend goes towards solving that.


This area of the debate is perhaps the most straightforward, and closely mimics the “rent or buy” discussion in the property world.

Commissioning a custom product means that you’ll become the owner of an asset, and once you’ve paid for it, it’s yours. Licensing an off-the-shelf product, in turn, is a lot like renting a home. While you can use it, your options of customisation are limited and you’re left with nothing at the end of the agreement. Relying on an external provider for an important process also comes with the inherent risks of giving up control to another business

Speed to implement

Once you’ve identified a need and found a solution that fits your budget, the next question often turns to speed. Naturally, buying an off-the-shelf process automation product means that it’s already been developed, saving time in designing and building. But while the product may be ready to go, your business may not be. As mentioned before, to get the best results, you have to make sure that your processes are set up to seamlessly integrate with the software. In turn, a custom-built solution can wrap around your workflows.

Build VS Buy Comparison
Category Custom Off-the-shelf
Upfront cost
Lifetime cost

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