Should You Build or Buy Your IT Service Desk Tool?

Stephen Mann September 12, 2018
- 6 min read

While IT help desk and IT service management (ITSM) tools have been available for 30 years or so, it still might surprise you that not every organization has invested in one yet. Of course, the majority have – from the largest of enterprise organizations to small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) – but there are still organizations that operate their IT support and other ITSM capabilities without the help of a fit-for-purpose tool. 

As to what these other organizations – of all sizes – use instead of a fit-for-purpose ITSM tool varies. Some might merely be using personal productivity tools to handle the work. This will likely start with email and perhaps include a spreadsheet tool (for a record of what’s been done). This might be enough for a one-man band IT operation (it isn’t, but that’s for a different blog).
Or, alternatively, an organization might choose to build their own tool to help out IT support and wider ITSM personnel. This blog looks specifically at whether this is a good decision – from the “why,” to how it does and doesn’t help the business. 

Read a this pharmacy store chain transformed its operations by migrating from a homegrown ticketing tool to InvGate Service Desk.

Why Do Organizations Build Their Own ITSM Tools? 

The honest answer is that it will differ by organization and it might be because of multiple reasons. These possible reasons include that the organization: 

  • Thinks that its IT needs are unique (and can’t be catered for by a “packaged” ITSM tool)
  • Doesn’t want to pay for a commercially-available ITSM or IT service desk tool
  • Expects commercially-available tools to be difficult to bend to their exact needs
  • Doesn’t know that there are circa 400 ITSM and IT service desk products available in the market (that already help organizations to achieve what they need to)
  • May have trialed, or even previously bought, an ITSM tool and found it too difficult to use.

There are probably many others, but the desire to create a bespoke, or “homegrown,” ITSM or IT service desk tool also begs the question as to whether the corporate IT organization has enough “real” IT development work to do. It’s hard to believe I know, given the increasing importance of IT to business operations and the growing demands on IT departments.

The bottom line is that these homegrown ITSM tools are still out there and are being employed to support IT personnel in doing their day-to-day work. But do they really help an organization, or do they do it a disservice – preventing the acquisition of something else that will save time and money, that will also deliver better business outcomes? 

The Few Pros of Homegrown ITSM Tools

There are, of course, benefits to building and using a homegrown ITSM or IT service desk tool.

The first is control – in that it’s exactly what the IT department wants it to be (or at least it should be). But don’t be confused between what’s wanted and needed (in terms of the offered benefits) here. As outlined in the next “cons” section – many homegrown tools are mere shadows of the commercially-available alternatives.

The second is cost – but this can be shortsighted (and suboptimal). That while the cost of the homegrown software (or solution) might be less than for a fit-for-purpose ITSM or IT service desk tool, it will likely deliver far fewer of the possible benefits. Plus, it might actually cost the IT department and parent business more in opportunity and knock-on costs. For example, resolving issues might take IT staff longer with a homegrown tool and thus cost more in labor terms. Then, the fact that issues take longer to resolve means that there will probably be an adverse business-level cost in the context of affected operations. And a tongue-in-cheek response to those that defend homegrown tools based on cost is that having no tool would be even cheaper still!

It might also be considered easier to change a homegrown tool, especially if the original tool creators are still employed.


The Many Cons of Homegrown ITSM Tools

It’s best to start with the generic concept of the “build vs. buy” decision. For the last two decades, probably longer, most organizations and their IT departments have invested in commercially-available IT products – whether they are ERP systems, CRM systems, security products, or anything else – because it’s ultimately a better business decision than building your own. With the self-build option limited to those unique business needs where no fit-for-purpose, commercially-available option exists.

So, why do so many organizations buy ITSM tools rather than build their own?

It’s because of the many cons of self-built tools. And here’s a quick list as to why building is an inferior approach, and solution, to buying (an ITSM tool):

  • Building takes possibly-scarce IT resource away from core business IT needs to focus them on non-core IT systems – and thus this internal, potentially low-value development work can negatively affect business strategies, goals, and accomplishments.
  • While the technology cost might be cheaper (in terms of avoiding software vendor margins), the delivered homegrown solution might offer significantly lower business benefits, relative to the investment, with this causing a situation where the built solution actually costs the business more than the IT departments saves (as per the earlier examples).
  • Homegrown tools can “age” quickly, failing to keep up with changes to user requirements. This is especially true right now as employees expect their workplace IT to match that in their personal lives (in terms of ease of use, etc.).
  • Homegrown tools have inherent risks. Firstly, they might not work as expected (or intended) – with errors going unnoticed either at the time of the initial build or future updates. Secondly, because the people who designed and built the solution will eventually move on – leaving the tool “parentless.” And thirdly, changes to the tool – and the associated costs – might not be feasible as the corporate technology ecosystem changes (and, as a result, the business is put at risk because the homegrown tool might only run on an outdated, and unsupported, version of an operating system).

The above points are pretty generic and are applicable to any form of homegrown tool, and the more-detailed consideration of popular IT support and ITSM tool capabilities shows what the users of homegrown ITSM tools are potentially missing out on. For instance, that: 

  • The commercially-available solution is designed based on ITSM-industry best practice, with capabilities updated and added to as best practice moves on
  • New capabilities are often driven by aggregated customer wants and needs (which might never occur to in-house developers and ITSM pros)
  • Visual workflow engines allow tool capabilities and ITSM processes to be changed without the need for coding
  • Modern ITSM tools can be used in other areas of the business, generating economies of scale
  • Time and effort saving capabilities such as self-service, knowledge management, and the automation of workflows and specific activities can make significant improvements to operations
  • Mobile access to tool capabilities – for both IT staff and end users – can speed up workflows and solutions
  • The valuable operational and performance insight available from management dashboards and reporting capabilities can drive improvement
  • Newer technologies, and the capabilities they bring, will be added over time – for instance, the expected influx of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled capabilities such as automated ticket categorization and chatbots

There are probably many more ITSM-specific benefits that could be added, but the bottom line is that the homegrown ITSM solution might not only be costing your organization more than it saves – it might also be placing it at a disadvantage versus your competitors (who have superior IT service delivery and support).

This blog is long enough already without me adding even more reasons as to why homegrown ITSM or IT service desk tools are inferior to commercially available products. Hopefully you can see why already and, even if InvGate Service Desk is not the right solution for you, I’d highly recommend looking at other commercially-available ITSM tools. Your IT department and business both deserve better!

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