If You Want to Make It, You’ve Got to Own It

Imagine you are a high volume manufacturer of vacuum cleaners. Everything runs smoothly, but you feel there may be some business potential for configurable high end vacuum cleaners that are built to spec.

You image a GOLD series of vacuum cleaners for which customers can configure various color schemes and decorations, various sensor add-ons, GPS tracking, and other features that a certain high-profile customer group finds exciting.

Of course, ordering a GOLD configuration from the web site comes at a premium.

Problem is: Your current production process does not accommodate for an ad hoc built-to-spec production. If you cannot reliably produce it, you cannot sell it!

So you come up with a pragmatic process, that makes sure you can track from order to shipment and that everything is consistent with your ERP recorded data. For example something like this (that I just made up – and you will get the point I suppose):

Obviously this requires some software support. It is not huge, but it may need to evolve and go through changes when you evolve your business. Who knows, maybe one day you will want to inform your customers on the production progress of there GOLD product.

Unfortunately you do not have much software development expertise in-house. So where do you get that software from? Do you ask your ERP supplier? Do you ask your Production Automation / MES supplier? Maybe not. Both are not exactly into custom development and will only increase your lock-in with them.

You could ask a software development agency – maybe even something really cheap with developers elsewhere but a local project manager.

Problem is: You might get a great solution but it will be a one-off solution. Who is going to maintain it, if the team that developed it will break up and join other projects right after? How do make sure, you can maintain it later?

The catch is:

You need to own it, if you want to make it!

Developing appropriate software development expertise is difficult. Developing and maintaining a custom business application that manages some long running workflows and integrates with legacy systems in a manageable way is different from developing a Web site. So you should look for a partner that provides

  • The expertise to build a solution;
  • A blueprint on how to extent and expand the solution into YOUR business platform;
  • A technology platform that you can build on, and
  • Support when you feel it is time to take over

This is the essence of digital transformation: It is not about creating digital versions of processes you already have, it is about making use of digital capabilities to implement new business models or process optimizations that were simply not possible before.

Please check out the great article by Volker Stiehl linked below.


  1. https://www.volkerstiehl.de/digitalisierung-vs-digitale-transformation/ (German only)
  2. How to Contract a Software Developer