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To DIY or Not to DIY: The costs of Developing your own Web to Print Solution

January 23rd, 2012 - Posted by Jamie Thomson, Managing Director


To go with this article I have written a little app (mostly for fun) that calculates the cost of your development project. Have a play here: cost calculator.

In the months of winter it is often hard to raise a smile with all the short days and bad weather but something last week really made me laugh. Overhearing a sales conversation from one of the team I heard what the person on the end of the phone had just said, “We are going to develop our own Web to Print system”.

So it is fair to ask why it made me laugh, isn’t that exactly what RedTie did? Well yes it is, but back in 2003 when the first line of code was written there just wasn’t anything on the market that had the functionality needed in a solution at the time and secondly we have been through the process of developing our solution so we know the true costs and the pain involved, so maybe it was nervous laughter as I know what is ahead of them.

This isn’t the first time we have heard that a potential customer is going down the road of developing their own software so this time I thought I would look at some of the costs involved in doing it yourself.

To make a sensible sized blog I am just going to look at the cost of creating the code to the first usable version. In reality this is not even the major part of a software project, as ongoing costs such as upgrades to software & hardware will dwarf the initial coding costs.

Defining the inputs into the calculation

Some of the required inputs for a cost calculation are easy to define, such as work days in a year, work hours in a day and possibly even the hourly cost of the developer. In my calculations I have used 250 work days (no holidays!), 8 development hours per day and £15 per hour for the developer salary.

The 2 that are really hard to define are number of lines of code, and number of lines of code each developer can average per day. This is where most debate will be so maybe I can use the experience of RedTie to help you find your figures.

You would think that running RedTie I could find out exactly how many lines of code we currently have but that is not the case, when I asked the development team I was told “More than half a million” to which when I asked how much more I was told “A lot more”.

Well for the purpose of this blog I decided to take the 500 000 lines and divide by 2. It is a very simple approach and not very accurate but let’s assume that would give you half the features of the RedTie Template (RTT). The reason why it wouldn’t give you half the features is because first you have to develop a framework on top of which you would build your web to print products, this framework could could easily be 250 000 lines.

Average number of lines per day is even harder to establish; you can’t get this from your developers who find the measure a horrible way to look at productivity and nearly impossible to define without a lot more information. In my calculations I used 100 lines of debugged code per day. Many will disagree with that number but as many a developer has said “on some days it is even negative as I just remove lines”, so it is not far from where you should be planning.

The Results

So that is enough inputs for this simple calculation and this results in:

  • Cost of first usable version: £300 000.
  • Time required:
    • 1 Developer: 10 years
    • 2 Developer: 5 years
    • 4 Developers: 2 ½ Years

So most of you will have jumped to the cost and made a judgement on whether that amount sounds about right and whether that would be an acceptable amount for your company.

Actually the cost is nothing compared to the time required in getting a usable version released. Just think of the lost revenue against getting an off the shelf system up and running in days instead of years and with RedTie there is always an alternative.

An Appi Ending

In November last year we released a feature that gives us and our customers technical freedom, we boldly claimed that we were now a 100% solution provider. The App Space allows our users to customize our product in ways never possible before by developing their own apps or by having them developed externally.

Instead of heading off down a 250 000 line project you can use the RedTie framework and build Apps to make it work exactly how you want. You get to start selling Web to Print now, not in several years time, using our great feature set. An app can be as little as 1000 lines of code and the more complex ones are in the 10 – 20k lines of code, just think how many you could build in the time it would take to build a complete Web to Print system.

And here is the kicker, through our App Marketplace you will be able offer your apps for sale to all of our other customers, which can make your development pay for itself, or at least contribute to the costs.

Developing software because you can, or because what is out there doesn’t do exactly what you want is a very serious decision to make. Don't get me wrong, we love bespoke development and there are many great bespoke development companies out there. If you decide to go down that route then I wish you all the best, but now we have given you an alternative I hope you will at least factor that into the decision making process.