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The Big Debate: Internal vs External Tools

As companies scale, you’ll hear common talk amongst engineers about the internal tools built within the company.

“Our tools are always broken, why can’t we use XYZ tool instead?”

This is our dashboard? I could build this in one weekend!”

Building software for software engineers is a hard task. It’s like trying to cook a meal for a chef.

This brings up the ongoing debate on whether companies should build their own tools internally, or use an external solution such as an open-source or SaaS solution. Depending on the size and stage of your company, you probably have a mix of both internal and external solutions.

So which is better?

Pros of an Internal Tool

Security — Sensitive data for these tools would be stored on internal databases instead of external databases, so the liability of having a data breach lies on your security engineers and not on an external company.

Customization —If you need to connect your internal tool to your company’s directory, a tools engineer could probably hack this together in a technology familiar to your company.

Cons of an Internal Tool

Cost — One of the biggest deciding factors for choosing an internal tool over an external tool is cost. Most companies think it’s actually cheaper to build the solution internally, but let’s break this down.

The average annual salary of a software engineer is around $100,080, so the cost to have 2 engineers working full time on a single tool would cost $200,160 annually. And that’s assuming you only need 2 engineers to do the job. Is an internal tool worth $200,160?

For small startups getting started with a typical SaaS solution like GoLinks is 100% free. Forever. For bigger companies, it would be $8 a month per person.

For a 100 person company that would cost $9,600 annually. Even a 1,000 person company would cost just $96,000 annually to have a dedicated product team. Compare this to the $200,160 for 2 engineers to maintain an internal tool. So is cost really a pro?

Support — For an internal tool, support usually comes in the form of unresolved bug tickets filling up a backlog, email threads going unanswered and work-around solutions that end up being “good enough”. Your only support will come from tools engineers, and that’s only during normal work hours.

Usability — There is no product team designing an internal tool. It will be built and designed by engineers who are notorious for bad design and hard to follow user experiences.

https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2012-05-01

Maintainability — Internal tools are built to just work, not built to be maintained. “Hey, it works! Ship it!” Documentation is the last thing on an engineer’s mind when it comes to building internal tools. The 1 or 2 engineers building this internal tool will be the only ones that know the codebase and how the product really works. If they ever leave the company, you might as well rewrite the tool from scratch.

https://xkcd.com/1343/

Timing — Building any software takes time and resources. With 2 engineers it could take 3, 6, 12 months to build a reliable tool? You’ll need to allocate proper engineering resources in order to build the software.

Pros of an External Solution

Support — A support team is always available 24/7 for issues you may have around the clock. If you ever need support for your golinks, or want to suggest product improvements, reach out to us on Intercom. We love hearing from our customers!

Product — External tools have been user-tested by thousands of users and designed by a product team that understands the customers’ needs. External tools are constantly being updated with the latest and greatest features. At GoLinks, our #1 priority is making a product that is useful and solves real inefficiency problems within companies.

Growth— With a dedicated company building your tool, features are continuously being built. Can that be said for internal tools? Requests to improve internal tools will sit in a backlog, never to be read or considered. At GoLinks, we continue to build and improve the features that our customers request. Here are just some of our many features:

Scale —A tool should be able to scale as your company scales. An internal solution might work for a company of 100 people, but what happens when the company grows to 1,000 people or 10,000 people? At GoLinks, we support companies as small as 100 people, up to companies worth billions of dollars, so scaling isn’t an issue.

Timing — You could get started right now with no special installation instructions. Head over to https://www.golinks.io and sign up with your company email. You can be creating links for your company in no time at all!

Cons of an External Tool

Security— With an external tool, your data will be stored on another companies database. At GoLinks, we leverage the industry-standard practices in security and will perform security reviews with our partners to ensure transparency in how we protect their data.

Customization — Custom solutions will usually be harder to control with external companies. External tools are built for a one size fits all solution, which may or may not fit your needs. Luckily at GoLinks, with an Enterprise Subscription, we provide a team of dedicated engineers to build your custom solutions. Even without an Enterprise subscription, you’ll have access to all the latest and greatest updates!

Did we miss any pros or cons? How does your company decide?

We are the team behind GoLinks. Get started creating and sharing go/links within your company. Turn inefficient communication into easy to find golinks. Get started now at https://www.golinks.io

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