EP 011

Choosing the Right Technology for Your Business

Should you buy software off the shelf?

Or should you build something custom?

What about something in between?

In this episode we'll dive deep into the timeline, cost, customizability, risks, benefits and lifecycle of all these different methods of solving business problems, so next time you're presented with the choice, you'll have this knowledge at your disposal and can choose well.

Episode Links
Hosted By
Matt Dressel
Mitch Herrema
Mike Bodell
Produced By
Mitch Herrema
Edited By
Eric Veeneman
Music By
Eric Veeneman


Mitch Herrema (00:06):

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to make others successful. A podcast where we aim to make you successful in your workplace and in turn, help you help others be successful. And hopefully that cascades down further and further. Uh, I'm joined here by Matt Dressel and Mike Bodell. You guys want to introduce yourselves quick?

Mike Bodell (00:26):


Matt Dressel (00:26):

Matt Dressel. I am the communication collaboration lead here at Bulb Digital

Speaker 2 (00:32):

And my name's Mike Bodell. I'm the business apps lead at Bulb Digital.

Mitch Herrema (00:35):

What do you guys like to do?

Mike Bodell (00:36):

Oh, I hunt and fish. I have numerous projects going on right now at home. I'm building a Treehouse like a legit Treehouse. Uh, it's gonna be an 8 by 16 platform by the time I'm done. So having fun doing that

Matt Dressel (00:49):

And it's really for him, not his kids.

Mike Bodell (00:51):

That's true. But speaking of kids, my favorite thing in the whole world is being a dad.

Matt Dressel (00:58):

So I do a lot of robotic stuff. So I'm heavily involved in a robotics team that my kids were involved in. And I'm still involved with that team. Yeah.

Mitch Herrema (01:06):

It seems like you're always at some sort of competition or building something or

Matt Dressel (01:10):

It's always something new, always there.

Mitch Herrema (01:12):

Okay. Well, let's set the stage for what we're talking about today. Two episodes ago, we talked about low-code in the workplace and that's gonna kind of relate to what we talk about today. Um, but from an overview, we're gonna talk about how to choose a technology for a solution to a problem that you're having in your business. Right? And so there's a couple things that we wanna talk about in each of those being like timeline, cost, risk, how custom you can make things. And so we've chosen a couple of different areas that we get or different solutions that we could, uh, dig into. And we like to ask these questions, anytime a client comes in our door, trying to help them find the right solution and not just assume before we vet out those things. So before we dig in, let's talk about a couple scenarios of what kind of problems we've seen come in the door and what questions we ask.

Matt Dressel (02:08):

Okay. Sure. One common one that I see or that I've recently seen is been a request for a custom form, a custom process for managing expense reimbursement. So a user comes in and says, Hey, these are the things that I've purchased. And I would like to get reimbursed for it. And you know, their costs might come in and say, I need, uh, online form to do that. So that's one,

Mike Bodell (02:28):

Another one would be that we've seen a lot of recently is how do I manage tasks or projects using whatever technology, right. Um, so we get a lot of focus in that regard on Office 365 and how to do it with those tools. But there are other off-the-shelf tools. There are other subscription services that you can just purchase, um, to manage tasks and projects and things like that. Or you could roll your own.

Mitch Herrema (02:48):

Another example would be like a CRM type tool. You know, how custom is your business that it would dictate whether or not you need a customCRM tool and processes behind that versus could you buy one off the shelf?Okay. So let's pick a favorite horse in the race and talk through all the different solutions that could be for that.

Mike Bodell (03:08):

Cool. I, I vote for expense reimbursement.

Matt Dressel (03:09):

Uh, that's fine with me. So we'll do expense reimbursement and let's talk a minute about the three different categories, types of approaches that we're gonna talk about for each for an expense reimbursement.One of the options would be off the shelfs, meaning go out and buy a product that either is itself only geared to do expense reimbursement or perhaps a time tracking tool that has expense reimbursement or, you know, maybe another tool that has an add on that doesn't expense reimbursement, like

Mitch Herrema (03:33):

Some kind of HR tool.

Mike Bodell (03:34):

QuickBooks, maybe.

Matt Dressel (03:36):

Yep. All those things that would be the out of the, off-the-shelf kind of solution. The second would be custom development. So we're gonna build this thing from stretch. I need something so custom that I really, I gotta do it myself. I gotta own all of it. And then the third would be low-code, no-code. So I'm gonna use Office 365 in our case, what we're gonna be talking about to build something that delivers on what we need. Okay. So we wanna start with the off the shelf, right? So I think the first topic we were gonna talk about was the price, the price on off-the-shelf really comes down to, like, we could talk about the cost of a subscription or the cost of a product. One time. What we really wanna talk about is the total cost of ownership. Um, for that type of solution, we should talk about that same thing across all of our solutions, because it's, you know, buying this product, you know, let's say it's $5 a month per user, right. Um, that doesn't really cover the overall cost of running that training with an off the-self-solution. If it's on-premise installed there's installation and management, if it's, you know, cloud or on-premise, there's initial setup, you know, you've gotta enter everybody's information. Um, you need to, you know, maybe there's some business logic that you need to configure within the tool, um, for approvals or for something else perhaps. Right. Um, so there's initial setup, there's the cost monthly yearly, whatever that subscription is and data migration stuff, but then also there's training and support. So somebody has a problem. Who's gonna go fix that thing right. With off the shelf solutions, the cost is traditionally something that is very low upfront.

Mike Bodell (05:02):

mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Matt Dressel (05:03):

and fairly low, long term, right? So it it's usually, you know, it make cost money to buy the product, uh, initially, um, and, and the cost may be relatively expensive, especially if you're buy paying for all upfront. But when compared to the other things that we're gonna talk about, it's not that high, the total cost of ownership. So you know, what you do for maintenance and installation and configuration, those can be, you know, sometimes a little quote unquote higher, um, because obviously you're fitting into whatever their system is. So your data needs to fit into what, how they work. You need to work how they want you to work. But again, it's not crazy bad, you know?

Mike Bodell (05:38):

Yeah. If the off-the-self solution has all the features you want, it can be a very, very, very good option from a cost perspective.

Matt Dressel(05:45):

Yeah. Perspective

Mitch Herrema (05:46):

Like you and I were even talking at lunch today about, we just, we're trying a testimonial tool. Yeah. Subscription giving it a shot. And it's kind of expensive every month.

Matt Dressel (05:56):

Month to month. Yeah.

Mitch Herrema (05:57):

At face value, but it was super easy to configure and I don't have to manage it. And so we're gonna try it and see, you know, in the long run, is this worth the subscription? Or obviously we might be able to build something equivalent and trying to we'll get into that later. Yeah. But, uh, anyway, continue.

Matt Dressel (06:15):

So we talk about, we talk about price or, uh, cost. The next thing is timeline. So this would be from the moment you decide that you want to take on this task and you kind of decided what you wanna buy or, or, or implement to when you can actually start using it. Off the self solutions are many, many, many times almost always gonna be a faster timeline to roll out.The only exceptions would be if there's big data migrations, if you're, you know, maybe it requires you to move an existing product to something else.Those can be maybe some exceptions, but generally speaking, if you're talking about implementing something brand new and you can just buy this new thing and start using it today, that's usually what it is. You can start using it very, very quickly and get moving on this thing very, very fast.

Mike Bodell (06:56):

Right. A lot of things today are put your credit card number in and you're using it, right? Yeah.

Matt Dressel (06:59):

For sure. Especially if it's a subscription, especially if, like I said, you don't have a lot of data to input or things to set up or configure. Like, it can be very, very quick.

Mitch Herrema (07:07):

Yeah. For like expense reporting, even if it's just, we already have Azure ad. And so we just put our Azure credentials or our domain in there. Anyone can use it.

Matt Dressel (07:16):

Single sign on.

Mitch Herrema (07:16):

Yeah. Yeah. You don't have to do any manual yep. Process for, uh, users. So super quick. Anything else on timeline?

Matt Dressel (07:22):

No, I don't think so. What's the next one.

Mitch Herrema (07:23):

Next one is customizability.

Matt Dressel (07:26):

Oh yes. So this is, this is a lot of where the downfall comes for off the shelf solutions, off-the-self shelf solutions are just that they're off-the-shelf. You buy them, you get them and you get what you get. You know, many times there is configuration yet there is some customization there's extensibility. You know, there is some of these other options, but there's huge limitations on it. Right? You are, you are fitting into their paradigm. You're fitting into how they work, what their process is by and large. If you do buy a off-the-shelf solution and you think you need to heavily customize it, I would say that's a huge red flag, right? Yeah. Because if you're gonna spend, uh, nine months customizing this solution, what would that take in one of the other options we're gonna talk about, right.

Mitch Herrema (08:07):


Matt Dressel (08:07):

Like, is it really worth it if you're gonna end up spending that much time and that much money customizing it?

Mike Bodell (08:12):

Yeah. One additional thing. I'd point out about the off the shelf stuff though, is when you have subscription services or apps out there that do things like expense reimbursement or a specific thing, or time tracking, right. The people that build those applications are trying to appeal to as broad a market as they can. So that has benefits and bad things. Right.Um, one of the benefits of it is if they're doing a very specific thing, chances are, they're doing it very well. Yeah. And it's working for 90% of the people. Yep. Um, and if one of the things I would actually say, if you find yourself like, oh, I need to customize that thing heavily. Right. You might wanna look at your process and say, yeah, that's maybe we could fix our process.

Matt Dressel (08:47):

That's another perspective.

Mike Bodell (08:49):

If those people are the experts at expense

Matt Dressel (08:51):

Reimbursement, why are we doing it that way? Why are

Mike Bodell (08:52):

They doing it that way? And

Mike Bodell (08:53):

We're doing, why do we have to do it this way? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Mitch Herrema (08:55):

One other little thing that I've noticed on some, uh, software as a service products is when you pay the low monthly fee, like the beginner tier. Yeah. They put their branding all over it or something. Yeah. It's they use their colors and you have to pay for the next tier to white label it and customize it to your you're liking. And that kind of relates to the cost aspect too. But customizability can sometimes be

Matt Dressel (09:18):

A cost. There can be a cost to doing it. Yeah.

Mitch Herrema (09:20):

Yeah. And you might not realize that those tiers or those walls exist before you get in there and

Matt Dressel (09:27):

Cause that's how they get you. They want you spending five bucks a month, top buy in, bought into what you've got. Train everybody.

Mitch Herrema (09:32):

Seven day free trial with all the features that you don't realize you're gonna yeah. Lose when you go back down to the basic version anyway. All right. Let's talk about risks and benefits of an off-the-shelf solution.

Matt Dressel (09:44):

So I'll talk about the risks. I'm really good at that. Mike, you can talk about the, the benefits.

Mike Bodell (09:48):


Matt Dressel (09:49):

So the risks of the off-the-shelf solution are number one, that it doesn't meet your needs. Exactly. Right? Like you're gonna get down the road. As Mitch mentioned earlier, you're gonna find some thing that you really need that it doesn't maybe do right away. But then another piece of it is you're locked into their environment. So you are stuck with whatever that the product manager for that product is where they're going. Right. They could goin a direction that you don't like, right. Or they could not do anything, make no changes or updates to the solution for years. Right. You're really relying on them doing the heavy lifting of development and product improvement for what they're doing. And then the last thing I'll say is having a separate solution is it require, it just requires extra work, right? Having a single source for all of your technology needs, there is a benefit to that. There's challenges with it is, Hey, if, if something happens to them, you're, you know, everything in your, in your organization kind of ends or has problems. Um, but there's another, you know, the risk of it is, again, you've got something separate that you have to manage. You have a separate accounting piece to manage. You've got a separate support stream. You know, you have separate integration components to worry about there's, it's just different. So those would be the risks, the main risks that I would raise about off-the-shelf solutions,

Mike Bodell (11:00):

Uh, when it comes to benefits, I think one of the biggest benefits is not having to manage and support the thing yourself. Right. You're paying a fee and you're relying on, on somebody else, some other team, right. To make sure that that thing is running, uh, to resolve issues with it, uh, to make sure that it's highly available. Right. You know, depending on what it is now, if you're gonna install it on-prem, that's a little bit of a different question, but I think most things, the nowadays people are moving away from bricks and mortar and moving things to the cloud. And so when it comes to like high availability and having to manage your data storage and back it up and do all of those types of things, you don't have to do any of that. It's all taken care of for you. And that that's a huge benefit because that's a database administrator, right.

Matt Dressel (11:35):

Mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Mike Bodell (11:35):

Uh, and to manage that stuff for you. So that's one FTE, right? Count cost at least.

Mitch Herrema (11:40):

Yeah. One other note I'll add here, it's a little bit different, but thinking along the lines of what position the provider is in to you in you giving them money, them providing you a service, this service is likely their livelihood, their income stream. They rely on making it great in order to keep making money and keep hiring and keep the business going. And so there's, uh, an interesting perspective on, you know, one time my dad was trying to decide where to bring his car when it got in a fender bender and his thought process was, well, I could bring it to a dealership and they could probably do it, or I could bring it to an auto body shop, which relies on successful auto body specific work, getting done. And so he put his trust in them because they're obviously providing a good service if they're around, uh, for a long time, hopefully. So I guess just offering that perspective on buying it off the shelf solution, hopefully they're putting in good work and making it a good long term solution because it's their livelihood.

Mike Bodell (12:40):

Yeah. So that would be one of the questions that you wanna ask yourself or ask the vendor. Right. How long have you been around? Yep. Do you have any testimony, like a track record, right. So that you know that they're not here today and gone tomorrow.

Matt Dressel (12:51):

Yep. Our last thing on, off-the-shelf, what does the lifecycle look like?

Mike Bodell (12:55):

You want me to take this one?

Matt Dressel (12:56):

Yeah, go ahead.

Mike Bodell (12:57):

All right. So I think the life cycle for an off-the-shelf solution is significantly different than any of the other things that we're gonna talk about. Um, I think you're talking about evaluating the product, right? Does it have the features, uh, that we want, does it meet our requirements? Um, and then you're probably looking at literally punching in your credit card number and adding some users to it and turning it on. Right. It's it can be ready to use. Um, I think there are potentially some scenarios where it's a little bit longer life cycle where something requires training, right. If it's a more complex solution, but a lot of the things are so intuitive today. People often just know how to use them. Right. And that's one of the reason that they're so good that people do pay for those services. So in that regard, there really is no life cycle to speak of. And then if you are paying for an online or a cloud-based service software, as a service, as an example, those products are typically updated continuously and you don't even know that it's happening in the background. So, you know, if there are feature changes or new reports that are being added or something like that, there's no downtime. Um, they just show up on Monday and you're happy, right? So you don't have to like, wait for something to happen or stop entering expenses for three days while we fix this. There's no such thing.

Mitch Herrema (13:59):

Yeah. One thing I'll add there is, uh, sometime most of the time it's incremental. We like incremental because again, we wake up, Hey, something's new and shiny and it doesn't break anything. And it adds something great to my process. But sometimes companies say, Hey, this is gonna be end of life. We're coming out with a new version soon. And so be prepared to move. And so in that case, it's a risk of sorts to say, we're gonna need to get on this new version. And the life cycle, maybe that year is a little bit more intensive than other years because it takes a migration or something.

Mike Bodell (14:31):

Well that that's where, when it comes to off-the-shelf solutions, there's actually a branch there there's the on-prem stuff and there's the cloud stuff. And generally speaking, the cloud stuff is gonna be pretty stable. You're not gonna have those experiences. Yeah. Um, and what we experienced, like for a long time in our career, we were going around installing and configuring SharePoint farms on-prem and it was a nightmare. And once SharePoint online became a real thing, we said, I never wanna work on an on-prem SharePoint farm again, just for those reasons, because of the cost and the pain associated.

Mitch Herrema (14:57):

Right. But what I'm saying is they had classic online and now they have modern online and there's, it's a little bit abrasive to get from classic to modern. Right. It's worth it. But as a service, they kind of grew up at one point.

Mike Bodell (15:10):

Yeah. There was no direct support there. And that's obviously a much more complex yes. Scenario than like an expense reimbursement, but yeah, you're absolutely right.

Mitch Herrema (15:16):

Yep. So most of the time incremental easy, cool, low barrier to the life cycle. But anyway, let's summarize, if someone is trying to solve a problem, when should they choose off-the-shelf.

Matt Dressel (15:27):

Off-the-shelf. I would choose it when there is a product out in the market that fits what you need. Like it does everything you need to do. The pricing is subscription or some other model that allows you to get updates on a regular basis. And it fits well with your other tools that you're using today. Right. It's not obtrusive for someone to have to go way over hereto another solution to go do what they need to do. Right. So if you have an expense reimbursement as an example, tool that you currently don't have an add-on for your time tracking system, and if you just bought that extension, you could do expense reimbursement and it fits, you know, pretty well with what you're trying to do. You should do that a hundred percent.

Mitch Herrema (16:06):

Yeah. Okay, good. Yeah. I think along the same lines for, we have an email system for anyone that's on our newsletter. If you're not, you should go to bulb digital slash newsletter plug office 365 tips in your inbox every week. Anyway, we have a system that sends emails and then there's a CRM add on that we may wanna grow up to at some point. And that would be really convenient. So we're probably gonna buy the off the shelf solution there. Yep. All right. Let's head down the path of custom development it's way on the opposite. End of the spectrum from off-the-shelf.

Matt Dressel (16:38):

Yes. Yes. It's the polar opposite of the spectrum.

Mitch Herrema (16:41):

Yeah. Yeah. Let, let's give like a down low. What are we talking about when we say custom development?

Matt Dressel (16:45):

So custom development is the idea that I am going to, or your organization is either going to have developers, someone who's gonna actually code and configure and implement a solution, or you're gonna contract out with someone potentially to build you a solution. So from

Mitch Herrema (17:02):

From scratch, scratch, scratch

Matt Dressel (17:03):

Part from scratch. So, you know, they might use frameworks. They're gonna use, you know, specific languages. You're gonna bethinking about, you know, do I want to Java or do I want, you know, asp.net? You know, do I wanna do no. Do I wanna do PHP? Like what it is that I wanna do from a technology per, from a detailed technology perspective, you're gonna be dealing with, you know, how am I gonna manage the servers for that? Whether or not in today's world, that's gonna be virtualized. It's gonna be containerized.Probably it might be on a platforms like a service, like, like, uh, Azure or AWS. So you're gonna be thinking and talking in those terms, right. I need to spin up an instance in Azure and develop some code, deploy it, figure out my application life cycle management, to go from development to tests, to production. Yeah. Like the whole soup to nuts. Right?

Mitch Herrema (17:43):


Matt Dressel (17:43):

You're talking about people with computer science degrees probably. And innate knowledge of doing hardcore development.

Mitch Herrema (17:48):

Yep. And that's all to produce.

Matt Dressel (17:50):

Yeah. That's to produce an application or a solution that does what you want. Right. So in the case of our case, it would be somebody who's developing, you know, a front end, maybe a mobile app that would allow you to enter expenses and as associated with a project. So maybe link it to a project code, link it to the person,

Mike Bodell (18:07):

Upload receipts.

Matt Dressel (18:08):

Upload receipts, manage who logs in, give them permissions to see certain things approvals like you're doing dev, designing and developing all of that from scratch.

Mitch Herrema (18:18):

Nice. That was a good summary. Let's dig into the timeline of a custom app. What does that look like?

Matt Dressel (18:24):

Well, the timeline for a custom app yeah. Can be it's long. Like it's the longest outta any three that we're talking about. That's the, the simplest answer. The other thing I would say is can vary greatly. You know, if you're contracting with someone who has, you know, extensive experience and, and knowledge in this space is highly skilled in doing this, it can happen very quickly. Right. And you can have great results and a great outcome.

Mike Bodell (18:46):

Uh, in that timeline though, we're talking about phases, like requirements gathering, design implementation, right. Testing, testing, user acceptance testing. Yep. Right. Go live launch. Right. Um, so all of those things have to happen, which is wholly different from buying something off-the-shelf.

Matt Dressel (19:00):

Which even if you don't actually call out and do detail, like, you know, let's say we're a 10 person company and you know, we've just got a few people, even if you don't think you do all of those things, you do do all of those things. You know, your test may be just having the person that's next to you out and try it, but that's still testing. Right. Right. You're still doing all of these things well,

Mike Bodell (19:20):

And the requirements could be a sketch on a napkin, build me a form that captures the user, a description, a numeric amount, a dollar amount, and an image upload for a receipt.

Matt Dressel (19:28):

For a receipt that

Mike Bodell (19:29):

That's where you start sketch on in the akin. And then you build from there you're iterative and your

Mitch Herrema (19:33):

Yeah. Trend has been towards like agile approaches. So that when you're thinking about this long timeline, you don't have to wait until the very end before you see version 0.1 of it.

Matt Dressel (19:43):

Yep. So yeah, a lot of will be agile. Uh, the other end of it, I was gonna say is on the, from a timeline perspective is, you know, if you try to do it internally and maybe you just have some, one person internally that has some skills from a development perspective, you may find that is a different experience from a timeline, right. Maybe you get something quicker, but it has lots of bugs or lots of problems or needs a lot of maintenance.Right. So a lot of it will depend on the people you select to do the work right. In regards to quality longevity, like all of that stuff. Right. Timeline for what you're, what you're trying to do.

Mitch Herrema (20:17):

All right. What about cost?

Matt Dressel (20:18):

Again. Cost is gonna be the, the highest, the one exception is if the off-the-shelf sales solution is, you know, Salesforce, right. The only solution that does what I want is Salesforce. I don't need to build Salesforce to do expense reporting. Right. I don't need all of that other stuff. Right. I can just build my one little tiny thing that I need. Right. Yeah. That would be the only scenario, which obviously isn't the case. Salesforce doesn't have a time tracking system time track. Like, it's not like that's not really in my, in our scenario that we went through, but it's the same type of thing, right? Like if the only option that you have out there that fits your needs, ideally in a, off, from an off-the-shelf perspective is some mammoth solution. Yeah. Like maybe it's cheaper.

Mike Bodell (20:57):

I think the other valid comparison when it comes to cost, uh, especially when comparing custom dev to off the shelf is a scenario where my organization is huge and I need everyone in the organization to be able to use that application. Right. And in the, off, off the shelf scenario, if it's five bucks a month per user, right. In perpetuity,

Mike Bodell (21:13):

it can be really,

Mike Bodell (21:14):

It can add up, right. If you've got 50,000 users in your team, um, whereas you could build a custom solution to do the same thing, and you're gonna pay for a license for a database, right. SQL server, maybe, um, and maybe a few other little things, right. License them at the server level maybe, but then it's free for your team to use.

Mitch Herrema (21:29):

Yeah. And just to give a grasp on numbers here, we talked about off-the-shelf being, you know, couple bucks a month, 10, 20 bucks a month. Something like that, customer development, it's easy for it to get in the tens of thousands, big solutions, hundreds, hundreds.

Mitch Herrema (21:43):


Mike Bodell (21:44):

Even millions easy.

Matt Dressel (21:45):

Yeah. Easy. And to what Mike is saying, if you can buy a, off-the-shelf solution for $5 a month, that is really close to what you want, but not exactly what you want and you're gonna spend, but you have a large number of people and it's core to your business. Right. You have to have it the way you want it. It could be worth it to do it. Even though the cost and development cost is, you know, let's say a hundred thousand dollars, it could still be worth it to your business. Let's say it costs a hundred thousand dollars, but that one extra thing that you can't get saves time on in of your people and can save you, you know, $200,000 a year. Yeah. Right. In, in effort and time and you know, lost revenue can be worth it.

Mitch Herrema (22:19):

Yeah. So expensive is what I'm taking away.

Matt Dressel (22:21):

It's expensive. Yes.

Mitch Herrema (22:22):

But it's super customizable.

Matt Dressel (22:25):

It's infinitely customizable basically. Yeah. Right. Like it's all a matter of how much you wanna spend. Right. You can use out of the box frameworks for stuff which can make development faster, but you're a little bit more locked in or you could do all custom. Like I wanna do everything from scratch custom, all my own stuff. Right. It's, it's almost a, the world is your oyster.

Mitch Herrema (22:44):

I'll say custom app development is probably a designer's best friend because they can go under their Figma or their sketch and customize any property that they want. And most likely it can be recreated in custom app.

Matt Dressel (22:58):

So I think you're, I think where you're getting at this, which is valuable to talk about probably the two most flexible pieces that you don't get in out of the box or some of the other solutions is about the UI/UX.And then also

Mitch Herrema (23:12):

If people don't want that as user interface and user experience.

Matt Dressel (23:16):

Yep. So like, if I want this to be a wizard style instead of a big, long form list, or I really want the, you know, a, a, uh, hover effect to be a certain way in my experience or drag and drop effect to be whatI want to be for this user experience. If you can do that all custom, or as outta the box, you usually you're stuck with what you want. So there's the UI/UX. And then the other piece that really you get when you want to do custom is if you have custom integrations. Yeah. So let's say I'm wanting, running in a shop and I've got, got a specialized piece of hardware that I need to interface with. Chances are your out of the box solution. Isn't gonna have a way to easily integrate with that.

Mitch Herrema (23:53):

What about Zapier that'll be able to do it? That'll do it right. I mean,

Matt Dressel (23:56):

The truth is you can build your own custom piece. Like there is, there is middle ground. You could build a custom piece that is the integration to your off the shelf thing.

Mitch Herrema (24:04):

Right. I'm jumping to low-code, I think on accident.

Matt Dressel (24:06):

You are. Yeah. But my point was, you can, you can have some combinations, but those are the two big things. Those from a customization perspective, that's where you're gonna, if you're thinking about what, why I do wanna do this, I have a UI requirement. That's very specific. Yeah. I have a hardware integration. That's very specific.

Mitch Herrema (24:21):

What are some of the risks of custom app development?

Mike Bodell (24:24):

Sure. So I look at custom app development in terms of what do I have to do to keep that thing living right? Uh, for the next five years. Right. And that means it's gonna change over time. People are gonna want new features. People are gonna find bugs, right? All things,

Mitch Herrema (24:37):

No. Well, we don't write bugs. Other people might write bugs, but we don't write bugs.

Matt Dressel (24:41):

Remember I said, who, you gotta hire the good people,

Mike Bodell (24:43):

Speak for yourself. <laugh> uh, but like the reality is that's gonna happen. And the real impact there is that you're on the hook for it, right. At some level, you're gonna spend the money to fix those things. Um, and then beyond that, when we talk about like a little bit more risk that's maybe unseen or unplanned is oftentimes those frameworks that we use, the servers that we're deployed on, or the services that we're using to host our solution. Sometimes people find security holes in them, right. And they need to be patched or something needs to be upgraded. And so that can kind of have a ripple effect where all of a sudden, you need to do something in your application, you need to change code or upgrade something, recompile, retest, and relaunch. Right. And so there's a cost that you hadn't planned on right. Two years down the road. Um, and that happens all the time.

Mitch Herrema (25:24):

It reminds me very much of like owning a car. Like it's an asset that you own that takes maintenance. Yep. And upkeep.

Matt Dressel (25:31):

So I'll give an, a real example that is in our contrived example, that will hopefully show what we're talking about. So let's imagine that it's eight years ago. Okay. And I'm designing a, a solution to do expense reimbursement. And I choose to the development platform to be silver late. So I developed my whole thing.

Mike Bodell (25:49):

You would do. You would do that in Microsoft. Super awesome.

Matt Dressel (25:54):

We love it. It's amazing. It's the best thing. All of our employees love it. Right. Silver Light's dead. It's gone. Yeah. You have to redo it.

Mike Bodell (26:00):

Oh, I thought you were talking about some Marvel superhero. <laugh> yeah.

Matt Dressel (26:03):

No. So, and that's just one example. I, you know, there's tons of tooling and, and solutions that people can choose. That just, it changes over time. It goes away. It, it, it evolves. Right. And you are on the big thing about that. That's fine. That that happens. That happens to everyone that happens. On-premise solutions. It happens to off-the-shelf solutions. It happens all over the place. The difference you are on the hook for it all right. You have to redesign, come up with a new plan, come up with a migration strategy. It's all on you. You don't have anybody else to look through to, to help you through it.

Mitch Herrema (26:32):

Yeah. Your transmission breaks in your car. It's yours. Yeah. You gotta manage it. Take care of it. And all right. So that's pretty good for risks. Let's talk about benefits.

Mike Bodell (26:40):

The biggest benefit for me when it comes to custom app dev, is that you can build something that gives you a competitive advantage over everybody else in your market. Right? So as opposed to buying the same time and expense tracking tool that everybody else is using, you can make yours customized to make you better than the other guys. Yeah. And that's, that can be a big deal, depending on obviously expense reimbursement is like small niche, but if it's a, a bigger deal in, in your business, it can be a big deal to have that advantage.

Mitch Herrema (27:06):

Yeah. If you're big into systematizing parts of your business, like that are custom unique IP related.

Mike Bodell (27:13):


Matt Dressel (27:13):

Well, as an example, if for expense reimbursement, if I'm a organization that has staff, right. I have a lot of staff AG people, and I charge my customer for those expenses. Right. Well, getting everybody to put those expenses in is a problem, right. Making 'em do it every Monday at a certain time. But the way we do it, it happens immediately. Like our employees love doing it and it immediately sends off to them and it happens instantaneously. Like if you could make that happen, that is a business advantage.

Mike Bodell (27:40):

I thought you were actually talking about us.

Mitch Herrema (27:42):

Yeah. I do not love time tracking further

Matt Dressel (27:45):


Mitch Herrema (27:46):

Right. That in stone. Yeah. Expense tracking.

Mike Bodell (27:49):

Yeah. No, but that's, that's a big deal,

Matt Dressel (27:50):

But that's, but that's an example, right? Like a real world example. Yes. It's a small thing. But if you could come up with that would be revolutionary.

Mike Bodell (27:56):

Let's build it.

Mitch Herrema (27:57):

<laugh> we're not staff AG.

Mitch Herrema (27:59):

Let's close up, uh, custom app development with talking about the life cycle.

Matt Dressel (28:03):

Sure. So the life cycle for custom app dev is very different than off-the-shelf. You own it, you are in charge of what that lifecycle looks like. What most places would recommend is that you have a product owner and that product owner is constantly saying, here's some things that we want to have happen to that. And it's going through a process of, into a development team, into testing, into pro you know, requirements, gathering development, into testing, into production and back around again. Right. And when I say all the time, that doesn't mean every two weeks like that. It's not, doesn't have to be that necessarily, but on a yearly basis, on a quarterly basis, you're constantly going through this process of talking about what it is that you can improve in that process. If you're not willing to do that, right? Like if you don't wanna be engaged at that level, which we've built products for people that when they get it, they don't really want to be involved at that level. There's a risk that you take with that. Right. And the risk is I'm now behind in code updates in security patches, like Michael was talking about in feature improvements, because my business change, right? Like we've let it sit and then you're gonna have to catch up at some point, like guaranteed, no question. If this, if you're gonna keep using it, eventually you're gonna hit a wall where somebody goes, this is crazy. I've been doing this manual, workaround to make this work for five years and I need it different. And then they're gonna go, well, guess what? Now you need to redo everything because Silver Light's gone. And now I have to delve the whole thing over again, rather than just fixing it a little bit at a time. As you go along

Mitch Herrema (29:27):

It gets harder and harder to brush things under the rug. Mm-hmm

Matt Dressel (29:30):

<affirmative> the longer you just don't do anything.Yep, yep. Yeah. A hundred percent.

Mitch Herrema (29:33):

So that's one thing I'll just kind of echo and say for anyone considering custom development, it's an asset, it's an investment. It's something that needs tender love and care.

Matt Dressel (29:43):

You're signing up for a dog or having a fish or having you need to care for it on a constant basis.

Mitch Herrema (29:50):

Yeah. Or pay someone to care

Matt Dressel (29:51):

For it or pay somebody to care for it. Yeah. You're, you're doing something to get it cared for.

Mitch Herrema (29:55):

All right. Our last category of expense reporting solutions could be low-code development, low-code solutions. We talked about it again in podcast previously, but let's kind of go down the, the same path and talk about the, the, the same thing. So timeline, what's a timeline to a low-code solution look like.

Mike Bodell (30:14):

So when it comes to low-code timelines, it can be whatever you kind of want it to be. Um, so the reality is in the Office 365 world. When you're talking about power platform, somebody gives you that sketch on a napkin. You can build that initial version of the app really quickly. It's a lot of drag and drop, click and drag super easy to do. You can even generate it from that sketch if you wanted to start that way. And so in that regard, your timeline can be very fast, right? Because you're not deciding where I'm gonna store the data necessarily or what frameworks I'm gonna use for my front end.Right. That stuff is all built for you. And so you're just like dropping controls on a form, um, and then figuring out how to share it. Right. So there's a little bit of knowhow. I don't wanna be naive and think that you don't have to like, think about who am I gonna share this with? Where should it be deployed? Yeah. Right. How are people gonna access it? But the reality is it's much quicker than custom app dev and probably not the same as off the shelf, but it could be close if it's a really simple solution. It could be very close to that.

Mitch Herrema (31:09):

Yeah. I was building a form over the last few days and was talking with Matt earlier. I can't imagine having built that in like a custom or a custom app solution and how many different builds and deployments just to test that thing. Like it has paid off in a big way to have it in a low code solution and be able to tweak the, the logic and the fields and the naming and, and all those things. And it was definitely the right way to go for that.

Matt Dressel (31:34):

So the only perspective I would add is low-code, no-code solutions. It's exceedingly quick to get an MVP. So a minimum viable product or a proof of concept POC, or like that is super, super fast. You can get something out there, the full solution, everything you want, all the bells and whistles it, as Mike said, it depends on how complicated it is. It's for sure. Less than a custom dev, no question, assuming that you've chose the right thing, right. If at the same time, if I chose that I needed to do something super custom, but I wanna do it low-code solution. You're actually gonna be probably longer, right? Like if I decide that I need super custom UI and UX, but I wanna do low code, no code. That is not gonna go well. Right. You're gonna be spending a lot of time banging your head against the wall, trying to fit what you're trying to do into it. So I'm assuming it's not super complicated and you're not trying to do something like crazy, super custom that is not, is not really well suited to low-code.

Mike Bodell (32:30):

So when you think low-code, think you're good. Lower your bar a little bit. Yeah. Well, if that's something.

Matt Dressel (32:34):

You're living within a framework by choosing, low-code no-code, you're choosing a framework that you're gonna work within and you better live within it. And if you can't, you shouldn't be using it.

Mike Bodell (32:42):


Mitch Herrema (32:43):

We can expand on that in some of the benefits and, and risks in a second. What about cost? It's kind of like off-the shelf-solutions, right?

Mike Bodell (32:50):

In a way it's, it's close. Most of them are gonna have licensing costs associated with 'em. So like off-the-shelf, I think you do have a little bit of cost similar to custom app dev, um, because you're probably gonna be building it or you're gonna pay somebody to build it for you. Uh, and then the reality is that thing's gonna have a life cycle too, that you need to manage. Um, sometimes things in the framework that you're using the platform change. And so you make adjustments for that or somebody finds a bug, right. Just cuz it's low-code doesn't mean there's no bugs. And so those are things you have to like deal with as well. And, and so those in, in that way, it's kind of a mix of both in terms of cost though. I think it, it leans much more closely on the, off-the-shelf. End of cost. Sure. Um, one of the interesting things I wanna do and maybe we'll, we'll talk about it on a future podcast is we've done both custom app dev and some, no-code, low-code stuff. Now I want to take a look at those applications that we've built kind of side by side and figure out cost per screen or something like that, uh, with some level of complexity and do a comparison. Yeah. Right. And see, well, if you're doing low-code stuff, it's this amount per screen you can expect versus custom app dev. You're gonna see this. Yeah. Um, and I think that would be a really interesting exercise. And for that reason, I'm thankful that we do track our time.

Mitch Herrema (33:56):

Oh Gosh, get outta here. <laugh> to, to tag on that.I will say that let's give some real numbers here cost like, so if you're using power platform, which we're most familiar with it's if you have one app it's five bucks per user using it every month. Right, right.

Mitch Herrema (34:14):

Roughly. Yep.

Mike Bodell (34:15):

And then if you have custom connectors or premium connectors to make it do special things that can add a couple extra bucks.

Mike Bodell (34:22):

Right. Well, so it depends if you're, if, if you're doing it like a per user per app plan, it's that five bucks a month for a specific app, regardless of what premium connectors that app uses. If you get yourself in a scenario where you have some users that need access to more than one app or access to a number of different things, or maybe they're building custom flows or something, you're gonna buy them a per user plan. And you're looking at like 26, 30 bucks a month.

Mitch Herrema (34:43):

Gotcha. Okay. And then as far as cost, to actually develop the thing, you know, it depends a little bit if you're using someone internal and you're, you're paying their cost versus someone external, but we've seen apps, you know, tens of thousands, like it usually doesn't get hundreds of thousands.Like we've seen it kind of cross into that threshold, but most of the time it's on the, that lower end.

Matt Dressel (35:05):

It, a lot of that really just depends on what you're trying to do. Yeah. Right. Like, so if you're trying to build a expense tracking, for example, you're not gonna be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Right. Uh, if you're talking about building, um, you know, a, basically a custom E R P system for your business yeah. Few

Mike Bodell (35:22):


Matt Dressel (35:23):

A few hundred could be a few hundred bucks or few hundred thousand thousand dollars. Yeah. It's just, it's really depends on the complexity right now. If you're talking about the same type of thing with custom, you're talking about hundreds of thousands versus millions probably. Yeah. Right. Like I like that, that I'm I'm it really depends, but you're really talking about a very significant difference between the two, but you're still talking about a cost that's very different than off the shelf. Sure. Right off the shelf is you're only really talking about licensing and then support or you know, these other things.

Mike Bodell (35:50):

That's why I want to calculate that per screen cost. Right. So you give me an app, give me a complexity level, low, medium, high, 10 screens. Here's your price.

Mitch Herrema (35:58):

We'll we'll publish a white paper on that. <laugh>let's do it. All right. Customizability for low-code.

Matt Dressel (36:04):

Yeah. So low-code is customizable. However, it is customizable within the framework that it supports. Uh, and so what that means is if you are looking for a drag and drop interface to manage something, you should probably not be looking at the power platform. As an example, there is no out the box drag and drop, put some stuff on there and you can drag it, just not available. Maybe it'll be available in the future. You can do custom PFX control. That would allow you to do that. But now you're talking about custom development, right? You're doing JavaScript like you're doing hardcore development. And in many ways to be clear that custom development is way harder than traditional cost custom development, because the skillsets required are very specific because you're fitting, JavaScript, all of those things inside the world of power platform. Right. As an example. And that's, and that's the same, it's not just power platform. All of them have the same kind of thing, right? Like you may even be able to do something really super custom, but you're gonna pay an exorbitant amount to do that thing, that environment, which still could be worth it. Right. We've done it.

Mitch Herrema (37:05):

Yeah. I'll just clarify, you talked about drag and drop.There is an aspect of building an application that is drag and drop, but if you want a drag and drop feature within your app,

Matt Dressel (37:15):

So maybe you wanted to, you want to do buckets within your app and be able to sort things in buckets. There's no out the box control for that. There are some ways that you can kind of make it sort of like that. There are some things you can do. Like I'm, I'm not gonna, uh, I'm not gonna say there's not, there are some things, but there is no out the box, like yeah, put it on here. And now I can drag from this bucket to this bucket and reorder. Yeah.

Mike Bodell (37:34):

There's nothing that I seen. That's elegant and beautiful.

Matt Dressel (37:37):

No, not at all. You're, it's, it's a hack to get you sort of close to what you kind of want, but you're not always all the way there, which won't be good enough for somebody who says that is the user experience.That is perfect for what my use case is. And that is a differentiator in my market. And it's super important to me. Right. If that's what you're saying, don't use it.

Mitch Herrema (37:53):

That's good. So I'll summarize and say customizability is middle level. It'll do more than out of the box, but it's not gonna get you to a custom design level that might make all your designers happy. They might have to suffer a little bit with some limitations. And with all this we're talking specifically power platform. I know we'd said it, but just to clarify the drag and drop thing, it's all power platform, power apps.

Matt Dressel (38:17):

Yeah. It's power platform. But I think the, what we're talking about applies to across the board. Yes. Like the reality is the whole point of low code, no code is that you don't have to write any code.

Mitch Herrema (38:26):

Yeah. You get a lot of things outta the box.

Matt Dressel (38:28):

You get, there is a cost for that. Yeah. And the cost is you have to live within what they can do. Yep. You know, and some of 'em have stronger points in one area, you know, lesser points than another, but the different, uh, low-code platforms, but they all have this thing and you're stuck within that framework. You're stuck. You have to do it. Like you gotta fit within that, that box, if you will.

Mitch Herrema (38:47):

All right. Risks and benefits of low-code solutions.

Matt Dressel (38:50):

So I'll talk about the risks again. So risks related to low-code, no code is that you start out doing it and you thought that you could do everything you wanted and you didn't realize that somebody has a very specific requirement that immediately says you have to do something crazy, ridiculous in low-code, low-codes and your low-code solution. And if you had known that you wouldn't have chosen it in the first place, mm-hmm,<affirmative> like, that's probably one of the biggest risks.

Mike Bodell (39:14):

Yeah. Not, or not even that just the, the reality of low-code being so new, like in, in history that it doesn't necessarily have all of the things that you might take for granted. Like you might just expect that thing to be there. Maybe you knew about it and it's not. So you get that far into it. Um, I think, I think is another kind of way that that becomes a risk.

Matt Dressel (39:34):

Yeah, for sure. Yep. But not being at that point, when you get to that point, you're kind of in the worst case of everything, right. Because you spent money, you started to develop you, you worked on it and you figured out, oh, I can't do this thing that I really need to do. What do I do? Right. And now you either have to throw it away and do something else or accept the limitation or do something really expensive to try to make it work.

Mitch Herrema (39:52):

We've been there before.

Matt Dressel (39:53):

Yeah. Which, which a lot of that is learning. Like Mike said, knowing what the product can do, knowing the limits and then also prototyping those things like identifying. I'm not sure we can do this. Let's try that out. Let's see how that works. So that's, that would be a way to mitigate it. Another risk related to low-code, no-code is that you're again, tied into their platform. So whatever platform you choose, you know, what's the longevity of that. When are they gonna redo it from scratch? When are they gonna remake, you know, make you do something completely different. Um, you know, Microsoft is making changes all the time. Other platforms are, do making changes all the time. You're gonna have to make changes. You know what what's going on in that regard? The other thing is cost, right? Like if most of these solutions charge per user and that charge can be expensive and you have to do development anyways, is it really worth it now to mitigate that? Uh, one thing that I would always suggest is the worst way to approach a low-code solution is to say, every time you have this conversation, so we're having that conversation about a expense reimbursement, but let's say we have a conversation about time tracking and expense reimbursement and a third one. And for every single one, we chose a different, low-code no code platform to develop on. That would be the worst case scenario, right? Like cuz you're paying, you know, all of those environments for each user probably to do something in that environment, you have a different technology stack that you have to learn. You like it doesn't make a lot of sense. Now if you're choosing a low code platform and you've decided that that's your platform of choice and you're gonna invest in it and all of your users are gonna get trained on it. You're gonna find a lot more value out of this. Right. But if you don't that investment in that license, because for example, power platform, you mention it, right. You pay $5 a month for an app or you pay let's say $30 per user just to have full unlimited that's for any number of apps that I develop. If I develop 30 apps, I'm not paying additional for all of those other apps

Mike Bodell (41:32):

From a licensing standpoint,

Matt Dressel (41:33):

From a licensing standpoint,

Mike Bodell (41:34):

You still gotta build the app.

Matt Dressel (41:36):

Yep. But from a risk perspective, which is what we're supposed to be talking about, the risk is again that you're not managing that appropriately, that you just randomly choosing another low code option to start doing development on which we've seen quite frankly. Yeah. People do this. All right. Benefits?

Mike Bodell (41:50):

Benefits, benefits to low-code. I think the timeline is a huge one, right? How quickly you can get a prototype or a proof of concept up and running, how quickly you can launch that thing. Once everybody says, yeah, that looks good to me. Right. Share it. And you can be live and people can be using it. Um, so I think that's one of the huge benefits. Obviously the cost of development is much less too. I think that's a pretty big deal for what you can build with those tools. You know, just the overall cost of implementation being significantly lower is a pretty big deal. I, it makes it so that businesses that, you know, might have looked at like, oh, we could build this app and it would be a differentiator for our business. It would really improve things, but it's gonna cost me half a million dollars. I can't make that capital investment. But if I don't have to write code to do it and I can do it in a low-code solution or a low-code platform, and it's a quarter of the price, right. That changes the equation completely. Right. So I think like what we've seen is there are a lot more apps being built for businesses because they look at it and go, oh, I can afford to do that. And it's gonna make a difference. Right. So I think that's one of the biggest benefits of low-code.

Mitch Herrema (42:43):

Nice. All right. Let's wrap up with life cycle of low-code solutions.

Matt Dressel (42:47):

Okay. So life cycle of low-code solutions is largely gonna be similar to custom development. The biggest difference is all of those cycles should happen faster, right? Like you still should have a product manager or product product owner. That's gonna be defining requirements. You should be passing those on to someone who's gonna be doing development, which can be the same person in a lot of cases. And you know, somebody testing it and somebody releasing it, but that can happen very rapidly, you know? Oh, I, I, we need a new validation on this field. Cool. Go in, reconfigure the validation, you know, send it up, test it, have somebody else VA validate release to production done. Right. That's the type of thing that it should be.

Mike Bodell (43:21):

Yeah. I think it's a little bit more difficult to do to manage the life cycle in low-code. At least right now, I, we touched on some options you have for the power platform, with the ALM accelerator for power platform, um, in a previous blog post that I wrote. And there's an example out there that you can use and you can implement that life cycle. Right. So moving from dev to test to production using low code tools, but it's a template for you. It's early, right. It's in early stages. And I think there's some work to be done to make that as accessible as it is to use those same type of tools when it comes to custom app dev. So that's something that's, it's still moving forward. Uh, it's a, but it is a little bit more difficult right now for developers in that low-code world.

Matt Dressel (44:01):

Yeah. And so what I think what you're getting at is that you still have to do it unlike in a custom world today where there's extensive automation that's built in. That's really easy to just turn on and make happen.That same automation doesn't exist for low-code

Mike Bodell (44:14):

Solution to especially platform.

Matt Dressel (44:16):

Right. Uh, and it'll get even better like that cycle time to be able to get from dev test fraud in the low-code scenario will get even better when there's better solutions for that automation related to yep. A what what's called ALM application life cycle management.

Mike Bodell (44:30):


Mitch Herrema (44:30):

Awesome. So let's summarize when should someone choose low-code for their solution?

Matt Dressel (44:35):

So in a low-code scenario, I would seriously investigate it for anything that you're thinking of doing custom for me, the way that I would look at it is I would look for an off the self solution. Then I would look for, Hey, will will a locate code solution work for me for this? And if I can't do it in low code, then I would try to look at custom meaning I found some requirement or some, you know, cost or some other thing that makes it prohibitive for me to use a low code solution, then do custom, otherwise try todo it in low-code.

Mike Bodell (45:03):

Yeah. It can be a good rule. Just start in low code. Even if you think it's gonna be custom and use that as a place to prototype. Yeah, for sure. If you, even, if you have a really good feeling, you're gonna go custom build some quick prototypes. You can put 'em in front of people and, um, that can be an easy way to wire frame something that's actually usable. Um, and you can get good feedback from your end users that way. Yeah.

Mitch Herrema (45:20):

Nice. Okay. Well that does it for today. We're all out of time. Went a little bit longer than I had expected, but that's good. Uh ,hopefully that was helpful for you. If you're trying to decide which technology you should move forward with to solve problems in your business. Thanks guys for your time today.

Mike Bodell (45:37):

Thanks Mitch.

Matt Dressel (45:37):


Speaker 1 (45:38):

Yeah. See you next time. See you. Hey, thanks for joining us today. If you haven't already subscribed to our show on your favorite podcasting app. So you'll always be up to date on the most recent episodes.This podcast is hosted by the team members of Bulb Digital and special thanks to Eric Veeneman for our music tracks and producing this episode. If you have any questions for us head to makeothersuccessful.com and you can get in touch with us there, you'll also find a lot of blogs and videos and content that will help you modernize your workplace and get the most out of Office 365. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you next time.

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