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Document Assembly Solution: How to Decide Build Vs. Buy?

Document Assembly Solution: How to Decide Build Vs. Buy?
Document Assembly Solution: How to Decide Build Vs. Buy?

December 21, 2009 Justin Lipton Contract Management   Document Generation  

OK, everyone now agrees; your current way of creating documents is broken (too slow; full of errors; impossible to maintain). So, how do you fix the problem? Do you build your own system, or do you buy something off-the-shelf? There are pros and cons of both approaches. But first things first; before you can make a Build-vs-Buy decision, you need to work out your requirements.


You quickly discover that requirements gathering and analysis is hard. In fact, conflicting stakeholder expectations and internal politicking make this the most difficult (and important) part of any IT project. Tree Swing requirements Even if you know what the pressing issues are right now, what about 6 months, 12 months or 3 years down the track? What about potential applications and requirements for other business units within the firm?

That's why smart companies spend a lot of time researching solutions. Specialist document assembly vendors have the experience and expertise to help you understand the sorts of problems other companies have solved and how they've done it. Once you've clarified your requirements, you can start investigating your options.


This is definitely the way to go if your requirements turn out to be truly unique. However, you still need to be aware of the risks of building your own document assembly system.

  • IT departments love building things. It keeps them employed, challenged and happy.
  • It's not just the tool that needs to be built. There's support, maintenance and possible enhancements down the line. Don't underestimate the testing effort either. Exari document assembly solutions, for example, have had over 20 man years of product development, run thousands of test cases every day, and are the result of ongoing partner and customer collaboration.
  • On the surface document assembly may seem easy. As with any area of expertise, it's only when you dig deeper, that you understand that various document types and outputs (MS Word, PDF, Web) have their own specific and unique quirks. You begin to encounter these once you start building. Styling, cross references, numbering, headers, footers, tables and business rules all contain unique challenges.
  • A good end user experience is essential, and is only half the battle. Templates need to be updated and maintained. Without the right authoring tools, maintenance requirements can easily turn your project into a money pit.

If your project really is a "one off "with well known and defined requirements that are unlikely to change over time, then build it; but only if it makes sense economically and you have a well resourced, capable development team.


If it turns out that your requirements have similarities to those of other businesses, then buying is more likely to be the better option.

  • Assess various document assembly vendors and identify the features and functionality that best match your business problem. Take advantage of other customers having been through what you're going through. Use the document assembly vendors to help you to define tight business requirements.
  • Make sure the system can handle the hard stuff. At some point you will hit complexity. You need a stable, easy way to automate it.
  • Confirm that the solution you choose works and integrates with your other applications and infrastructure. Requirements change over time. Systems with flexible APIs that are based on open standards enable you to future proof your investment.
  • If the project is time-critical, remember that buying will be much faster than building.

Total Cost of Ownership

Ultimately, when making a Build-vs-Buy decision, you need to understand the total cost of ownership for each approach. That means factoring in all costs for the life of the project, including internal development costs, opportunity costs, ongoing maintenance costs, and integration costs.

Have you been through a Buy vs. Build experience? Please tell us what you learned in the comments below.

To see Document Assembly software in action, please try our demo. Or request a demo of the Contract Management software.


Justin Lipton is Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Exari. @liptonj