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When to Build vs Buy a Data Importer: Deep Dive

Jeff Fiddler

Updated July 14, 2023

• 7 min read

A manual data onboarding process with hurdles that is tricky to navigate for clients brings challenges such as high churn rates and a deluge of support tickets for businesses impacting a business's success. With efficient and accurate data onboarding however, companies can unlock valuable insights and streamline various applications. 

As the decision to build a custom data onboarding solution or invest in a pre-built platform like Dromo has wide-ranging implications for both technical and business outcomes, it is crucial to consider the perspectives of developers and business stakeholders alike.

In this blog post, we'll examine the advantages, challenges, and trade-offs associated with building a custom solution or opting for a pre-built platform, taking into account the resource implications, total cost of ownership, and key factors influencing both development and business success.

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The Great Debate: Building vs. Buying Data Onboarding Solutions

Companies seeking to tackle data onboarding challenges face a critical decision,  whether to build a custom solution or invest in an off-the-shelf product like Dromo. Each choice has its advantages and drawbacks, making it essential to weigh these factors carefully.

Opting to build a custom data onboarding solution provides businesses with complete control over the development process and features, enabling them to create a solution tailored to their unique requirements. However, this route is not without its challenges. It demands a significant investment of time, money, and resources, and companies must account for ongoing maintenance costs as we'll discuss in a minute. Moreover, scaling or adapting a custom solution as the business grows can be a daunting task.

On the flip side, purchasing a data onboarding solution like Dromo presents its own set of pros and cons. A key advantage is the rapid implementation, allowing for quicker results and reduced time-to-market. Off-the-shelf solutions typically have much lower upfront costs than their custom-built counterparts, making them a more cost-effective choice. Moreover, businesses can rely on the vendor for ongoing support, updates, and improvements, eliminating the burden of in-house maintenance.

Taking compliance into account, off-the-shelf solutions often ensure compliance with data privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA, thereby minimizing the possibility of legal action and fines. Furthermore, a good vendor prioritizes data security by utilizing secure file transfer protocols and a privacy-first architecture in which customer data files are not exposed to the vendor unless strictly necessary.

However, there are trade-offs to consider. A ready-made solution might not precisely align with a company's specific needs, which could result in compromises in functionality or workflow. Integration challenges may arise when incorporating the solution with existing systems, potentially increasing implementation time and complexity. 

To overcome these challenges, some data onboarding solutions like Dromo offer features that enable seamless integration into businesses' existing workflows and systems through an embeddable component that can be added directly to their website or app.

These solutions can also provide customizable importer styling, AI-powered column matching, and an intuitive review and editing experience, addressing the need for flexibility and tailoring to specific requirements. For deeper integration, a programmatic importer can ensure smooth and efficient data onboarding while integrating with existing workflows and systems.

Ultimately, the decision to build or buy a data onboarding solution requires businesses to assess their unique needs, resources, and long-term goals. By examining the pros and cons of each option and considering factors such as customization, control, costs, scalability, and vendor support, companies can make an informed choice that best suits their data onboarding needs.

Developing a Data Importer: The Resource Rollercoaster

One might wonder, why would it be resource intensive to develop a data importer? Thinking it's just a data importer. In reality, there's more to it than meets the eye. Let's explore the resource implications.

1. The Art of Crafting User-Friendly Data Onboarding
Ensuring a user-friendly interface is essential for successful adoption across an organization, particularly for non-technical users. However developing a user friendly product that appears like google sheets with a drag and drop logic and an intuitive flow is hard. Crafting a frictionless onboarding experience for customers demands a deep understanding of user needs and preferences, along with iterative design and testing to fine-tune the process, further contributing to the time and effort needed. Vendors provide products designed with user experience in mind, informed by a thorough understanding of diverse user workflows.

2. Conquering Data Format and Validation Hurdles
Developing a custom solution can be particularly time-consuming due to the challenges of handling various data formats, such as date formats and other preferences, which require robust algorithms and thorough testing. Addressing such edge cases is a significant hurdle when developing an in-house data importer. Also, data validation and error-checking mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that the imported data is accurate and complete, which can add complexity and require additional development time

3. The Road to Reliable and Scalable Onboarding Solutions
When it comes to developing a custom data onboarding solution, companies may underestimate the resources required to ensure reliability and scalability. Even the most talented development teams can face issues as a company grows, as seen in the example of a rapidly expanding e-commerce company whose in-house solution falters under the weight of increased customer data, causing delays in processes and negatively impacting customer service. A specialized vendor, on the other hand, can offer reliable and scalable solutions that keep pace with a company's evolving needs.


4. Data Security and Compliance
Integrating data security and compliance considerations is another critical aspect of developing a custom data onboarding solution. Businesses must not only protect the collected and stored data but also adhere to data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA.

Compliance with these regulations is crucial to avoid potential legal consequences and financial penalties. During the data onboarding process, it's vital to utilize secure file transfer protocols or embed software directly, rather than relying on unsecured methods like email.

Moreover, the onboarding software should feature a privacy-first architecture, ensuring that customer data files do not transit third-party servers unless absolutely necessary.

5. Smoothly Integrating Complex Systems
The resource implications of developing a data onboarding solution become increasingly apparent as a business grows and its requirements become more complex. As businesses branch out into new industries or explore novel opportunities, they may need to integrate their in-house solution into new processes and software. Such changing requirements can be not only time-consuming and expensive, but without ready to use API's and tools often beyond what internal teams can stem besides their main focus. For instance, a multinational corporation may need to onboard data from multiple subsidiaries, each presenting unique formats and requirements, which can be challenging to scale internally. A vendor with a scalable solution can effortlessly accommodate such complexity, freeing up internal resources for core business activities.

6. The Ongoing Dance of Maintenance and Improvement
Speaking of keeping the onboarding solution up to date over time, another factor that companies should consider is maintenance and improvement. When a company purchases a data onboarding solution, the responsibility for maintenance and improvement is transferred to the vendor. This arrangement allows the company to concentrate on its core business, while the vendor takes care of fixing bugs, answering queries, and refining functionality. In-house teams are freed from the burden of handling support requests and feature updates, allowing them to focus on more strategic initiatives.While some companies may consider building an in-house data onboarding solution as a cost-effective way to meet their unique needs, it is important to consider the amount of work involved in development and maintenance.

The reliability, scalability, and user-friendliness of vendor-provided solutions, as well as the responsibility for maintenance and improvement that vendors assume, can outweigh the perceived cost savings of an in-house solution. In fact, the total cost of ownership of an in-house solution may be higher than that of a vendor-provided solution, let's see why.

Peeling Back the Layers: Total Cost of Ownership

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the true cost of in-house solutions, let's look beyond the surface and explore the numerous factors that contribute to the overall expenses. 

The first and underestimated aspect is the amount of resources companies need to allocate for developing a solution. Startups dedicating a team to build their custom  importer typically expect their importer project to take 1-3 months to complete. However they often spend 6-12 months creating a custom solution, and the company may need to hire extra developers. Because of the above mentioned difficulties they might nevertheless end up with a lacking process requiring manual interaction for successful data imports.

The diversion of resources from other high-priority projects results in significant costs and frustration, which can ultimately hinder innovation. These opportunity costs stem from development teams being sidetracked from their core tasks. Such detours not only delay time-to-market but also lead to missed revenue opportunities that are difficult to recover from.

A simple calculation shows: For small and medium-sized companies opportunity costs can reach six digits per year.  A fair estimate of opportunity costs for small and medium-sized companies is 1% of sales, considering that development costs account for 20% of total sales.
By keeping this simple rule in mind and taking into account the various factors that contribute to the total cost of ownership, businesses can make well-informed decisions on how to approach their data onboarding needs.

Elevate Your Data Onboarding Strategy: Make a Well-Informed Choice

Upon closer examination, it becomes evident that choosing a solution like Dromo can offer numerous advantages for businesses seeking to improve  their data onboarding process. Dromo provides a user-friendly, customizable, and secure platform that can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively, saving valuable time and resources compared to building a custom solution. Additionally, the vendor's ongoing support, updates, and improvements ensure that the platform remains reliable and scalable, keeping up with the ever-evolving needs of growing businesses.

Nevertheless before making a final decision, we encourage businesses to put Dromo to the test by conducting a proof of concept (POC) through its free trial. This preliminary test will allow organizations to assess the potential and effectiveness of Dromo in addressing their specific data onboarding challenges, as well as evaluate its performance, ease of use, and overall benefits. By analyzing the data collected during the POC, businesses can make an informed decision that best aligns with their unique requirements and long-term objectives.

This hands-on evaluation, facilitated by the embeddable importer, support, and documentation, will empower businesses to make an informed choice that best aligns with their specific requirements and long-term objectives with minimal time investment.