Why tech integration should be part of your product development strategy

Read Time 5 Mins

Knowing when to leverage others’ technologies lets you focus on building a better core offering for your customers.

The English poet John Donne once wrote that no man is an island. As the world becomes ever more interconnected, the same could be said for technology.

Some of the world’s largest and most successful companies would surely agree, since leveraging other technologies allows them to provide further value for users while freeing up resources to improve their core offering.

Essentially, it’s like taking the path of least resistance. In order to continue to do what you do well, you sometimes need to rely on software that’s produced by other companies to shoulder the load.

Take Lyft for example. The US-based ride-sharing network helps connect drivers to passengers. It is Uber’s nearest competitor in the Transportation as a Service industry. But while Uber recently announced that it’s to invest half a billion dollars in developing its own mapping technology, Lyft continues to use technology that’s currently available from Google.

(It’s worth noting that Uber is still currently using Google Maps. In fact the service was pivotal in helping the Uber reach a valuation of close to $70 billion and establish its market dominance in the first place.)

Though it remains to be seen how effective Uber’s investment will be in improving its overall service, Lyft gets the additional benefit of availing of Google’s ongoing innovations. The company has also reportedly gained market share on its rival and continues to pump resources into its marketing drive (no pun intended).

Keeping a system nimble, flexible, and scalable is an art as much as it is a science. Click To Tweet

In the tech sector, such stories are like drops in the ocean. Unless you’re a company with the massive resources of the likes of Apple or Google, you simply cannot survive and thrive in the tech world without integrating other services into your own.

Which is no bad thing. In fact, it makes perfect sense when you really think about it.

Why dedicate precious company resources to developing an online payment platform when you can quickly use the likes of Stripe? Why develop a live chat platform to communicate with customers when you could use Olark or Intercom? Why step outside your area of expertise to create a feature that’s outside your main offering when someone else can do it better, more quickly, and at significantly less cost?

Pride goes before a fall

Of course, not everyone with a tech team of their own tends to think this way. At least, not initially.

“We have the resources,” a company CTO or product owner may think to themselves. “Why pay someone else all that money for a feature we can simply build ourselves?”

Sure enough, you might have a handful of engineers with the requisite skills to build that additional feature, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Trying too hard to “get it right the first time” reduces innovation and impacts product quality. Click To Tweet

The cold sweat really starts when you witness firsthand the incredible drain on resources that even the smallest projects can – and almost inevitably do – set in motion.

First of all, if you aren’t prepared to invest a significant portion of time into developing an additional feature, then there’s a strong chance it’s going to be mediocre. It’s as simple as that.

Trying too hard to “get it right the first time” has a detrimental impact on quality since developers feel compelled to avoid mistakes and so take fewer risks. This means there’s no room for innovation or product evolution. And if there are mistakes (which is all but certain), then fixing them won’t be an option either – unless, of course, you invest more time.

If time isn’t available, then the average manager may decide to assign additional resources to the project. Taken at face value, this appears to make sense. To get more work done in less time, you just need more people, right?

This won’t work either. If it’s all hands on deck for your development team, then other projects – and even your core product – are bound to be neglected. As the Harvard Business Review reports: “High utilization of resources inevitably creates queues of projects. When partially completed work sits idle, waiting for capacity to become available, the duration of the overall project will grow.”

Planning for project limitations

Attempting to reduce financial costs by working on a project outside your core remit is therefore likely to cost you dearly in other ways.

It’s the old project management quandary illustrated by the “scope” or “quality” triangle of cost, schedule, and scope (or quality).

  • If a project is done quickly and to a high standard, then it won’t be cheap.
  • If a project is cheap and of a high standard, then it won’t be done quickly.
  • If a project is done quickly at low cost, then it won’t be of a high standard.

And this is without even considering maintenance or other build or buy costs we’ve previously covered.

The truth is that new projects are unpredictable. And more often than not, decision-makers fail to envision the dangers of building, testing, rebuilding, refining, retesting, maintaining, and evolving a new product until they’ve gone through the funhouse of horror that is the build versus buy minefield for themselves.

It takes as much art as it does science or strategy to keep a system nimble, flexible, and scalable. It means knowing how and when to best utilize your resources for what’s most important, which is no easy thing.

Buy better so you can build better

After publishing an article on our blog asking “why hasn’t digital assessment moved beyond the standard multiple choice question”, one reader wrote back:

“Most learning management systems are designed only for multiple choice for assessment. Creating a more sophisticated assessment type requires advanced coding skills since for each assessment you will need to code it in. There isn’t a simple way to build these assessments.”

That reader was right, of course. Trust us, we know exactly how difficult it is.

It’s why we dedicate the brainpower of some 50 developers to designing, coding, reiterating, and perfecting a vast array of question types.

It’s also why day in and day out, our engineers channel their time and attention to making Learnosity more valuable for customers by refining the core product’s flexibility, scalability, speed, security, and compatibility – all the things that go into making a world-leading digital assessment platform.

But that would be impossible were it not for the fact that other technologies help free up these resources. Having the capacity to create more sophisticated assessment technology is the end result of having a product development strategy that recognizes limitations and the most effective ways of overcoming them.

This applies to everything from improving team workflow via JIRA to partnering with other platforms to roll out specific features that add value to our core product.

When making a decision on whether to build or buy, there are three main factors to consider:

  1. What is the cost?
  2. How core is the feature?
  3. What competitive advantage does it contribute?

Building the best possible product is enough of a challenge on its own without taking on additional burdens that have far-reaching additional costs.

Even with a rich assortment of technical expertise at their disposal, product owners and senior executives are doing their core offering a disservice if they fail to use them wisely.

Optimizing your product’s performance begins when you make the tough decision to do things the easy way.

Micheál Heffernan

Senior Editor

More articles from Micheál

Let’s make it official

Get behind the scenes at Learnosity with quarterly insights, inspiration, and updates.