[Sponsored] Should You Build or Buy a Certification Management Solution?
The following content is sponsored on behalf of Certemy
Eight questions to help you make the right decision
By Oleg Shvarts, Founder and President of Certemy
When researching a new certification platform, your first instinct might be to build a custom certification management solution from scratch. You might think all off-the-shelf products are the same and cannot address your complex needs. Or you might worry about loss of control and high dependence on vendors. These might be valid concerns for a select few. But for most organizations, the custom approach leads to runaway costs, outdated solutions and high dependence on critical employees and custom development partners.
So what should you consider when exploring a new certification platform? These eight questions may help.
1. BUSINESS FIT: Can an off-the-shelf product manage the complexities of your certification program?
You might think your certification workflows are too unique and complex for an off-the-shelf product. This is true for many software as a service (SaaS) vendors. Their rigid platforms do not provide the flexibility you need to run your certification operation the way you want. But not all SaaS solutions are created equal. There is a new generation of instantly configurable SaaS certification management solutions. These products let you automate complex certification workflows in hours and change them in minutes, all without programming. They distill workflows into small, reusable building blocks you can arrange in any combination to automate even your most complex processes.
But be careful when a SaaS vendor tells you their product is configurable. Often, their version of configurability requires you to pay steep custom development and implementation fees to achieve your desired functionality. So how can you tell if a SaaS platform is truly configurable? Simple. Challenge the vendor to demonstrate that they can automate your most complex processes without custom programming. If they are up to the task, you can avoid the custom software business and focus on what you do best.
2. COST: Will a configurable SaaS solution cost less than a custom system over time?
You might think that paying once for a custom system is more cost-effective than paying annual SaaS fees. But is that true? Not when you consider your total cost of ownership (TCO) over five years or more.
To calculate your TCO, start with software development, testing, deployment and maintenance costs. Then add integration with your website, CRM, AMS and LMS systems. Then factor documentation, training and user support. Finally, consider end-user reporting and data analysis.
The list is long. With a custom solution, you must assume 100% of these costs. With a SaaS vendor, you pay a fraction because the vendor can spread the costs across thousands of customers.
Also, remember that custom solutions require significant up-front capital investments for implementation and changes. Every system change or enhancement, large or small, is a change order. Over time, these change order costs can dwarf implementation costs.
Also, consider your annual maintenance and support costs. With a custom system, you need to pay these to your custom development partner or an internal IT team.
SaaS solutions require none of these payments. Instead, you pay one predictable, monthly fee that you can book as an operating expense. Implementation is included, and you can make system changes without programming at no extra cost.
Again, not all SaaS platforms are created equal. Some SaaS vendors still charge significant implementation and change order fees. How can you tell the difference? Just ask. True SaaS solutions offer predictable, all-inclusive monthly pricing with no fees for implementation and change orders.
3. FOCUS: Do you want to be in the software business?
You're an expert in managing professional certification programs. SaaS companies are experts in software development, testing, deployment, documentation, training, support and systems integration. Building a custom system will take time and resources away from your core business. Worse, it can create spiraling costs with diminishing business returns. Do you want to spend 20-40% of your operating budget on maintaining a custom system? You can cut that cost to 10% or less with a configurable SaaS system. And better yet, you can free up more resources to manage your certification operations.
4. KEEPING UP: How will you manage change?
With custom solutions, system changes quickly become expensive and time-consuming. Simple updates can cost thousands of dollars and take months to implement. And yet your business needs will evolve and you want to stay nimble. Configurable SaaS solutions let you implement smaller business changes, such as a modified application fee, in minutes. More significant changes, such as a new certification, take hours or days. Neither require IT skills or custom programming. But remember, not all SaaS vendors provide this flexibility out of the box. Be sure to ask about the time and cost of implementing change.
5. PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE & SUPPORT: Can you afford to put all your eggs in one basket?
Custom solutions can suffer from single points of failure. A deep understanding of the system usually resides in the heads of one or two key employees. This combination creates the classic "Bob gets hit by a bus" problem. Product knowledge gaps arise when these employees leave or retire.
When issues arise, the business grinds to a halt because critical employees are unavailable to help. The problems compound when systems are poorly documented — often the case with custom solutions.
SaaS products include robust documentation, training and support as part of the service, eliminating single points of failure. SaaS vendors also support their products with teams of product experts who are familiar with every aspect of the SaaS platform.
6. SECURITY & COMPLIANCE: Can your organization afford the risks?
When you build a custom system, you take responsibility for data security and regulatory compliance. Regulations include the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and many more. Addressing each requirement can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you cannot ignore them. The financial and reputation losses in case of security and data breaches can be catastrophic.
SaaS vendors absorb the risk of security and regulatory compliance for you. They provide the highest level of data security and compliance available for meeting industry and government standards. They do so by partnering with top industry experts. Can you afford to deploy expensive resources to ensure that your custom solution remains secure and compliant amidst ever-changing risks and regulations?
7. INTEGRATION VERSUS ISOLATION: Why build an ecosystem from scratch?
Certifications gain additional value when they are part of an ecosystem. Your organization will benefit from integrations with testing companies, education providers, professional associations, employers and other regulatory bodies. Do you want to build and maintain each of these integrations yourself? Do you want to rebuild those integrations when technologies change?
Some SaaS solution vendors have already created the integrations you need or can develop and maintain them for you. The most innovative vendors are integrating entire ecosystems. Choosing one of these vendors instantly connects you to their expanding network of connected business partners. This provides you with a vibrant ecosystem in which your organization is more likely to thrive and grow.
8. TECHNOLOGY OBSOLESCENCE: How will you stay current with new technologies?
Just like a new car driving off a dealership lot, there's a high chance your custom solution will be outdated the day you go live. For users, they become cumbersome and restrictive. From a security and customer satisfaction perspective, they become a liability.
SaaS vendors work for thousands of paying customers, not one. They can and must keep pace with new technologies and design trends. They continuously develop new features for other customers in your industry with similar needs. You get these new features at no cost, generally every two weeks.
Here again, not all SaaS companies are created equal. When you compare vendors, take a look at their website and platform. If they remind you of that old cellphone that you used five years ago, you might want to look elsewhere.
THE BOTTOM LINE
To build or buy a certification management system is a big decision. Until recently, the answer was easy. No off-the-shelf certification management system provided the level of configurability you needed to automate your complex certification workflows. That has changed. You now have the option to avoid (or exit) the custom software development business by partnering with a configurable SaaS solution vendor. You'll get a richer, more secure, and more reliable system that you can implement in weeks and change in minutes. You'll also reduce your IT costs by avoiding the considerable costs of development, testing, deployment, maintenance, training, support, data security, systems integration, technology obsolescence and regulatory compliance. Best of all, you'll be free to invest the majority of your time, money and resources into fulfilling your core business strategies.
As always, make sure the vendors you talk to can deliver on the value and promise of the SaaS model. Check that you're not paying implementation and change fees. Challenge them to automate your most complex certification processes without programming.