Generic open-source products bring a number of advantages to their customer than is obvious, more so in the social sector. Here we explain the factors which are not obvious and why one must pay attention to them when deciding between build or buy.
Avni caters to field work across sectors and organisations. It can do that because there are a lot of similarities in the field work across sectors. Avni provides for all the similarities within the platform and provides tools to make the organisation specific things easier to implement on it. In other words it is a generic software product that is configurable. But there are also a lot of custom software solutions that are utilised for the same purpose as well. So, how does Avni compare to other custom software solutions in use? To answer this, I must explain the broader picture of "software for social sector" - using Avni's use case as an example.
Lets breakup the potential customers of Avni (and adjacent products) into two segments.
The first segment is well served by tools like ODK, KoboCollect, Google forms, etc and they are also nearly free. In second segment the approach is usually to find a software service provider and develop custom solution if the organisation has the budget for it. If they do not have budget, they have suboptimal options available to them. Avni tries to solve this problem by creating a generic product that requires configuration and some amount of learning - but reduces the cost substantially making it affordable.
To explain this point we can compare it to something like creating websites (or web presence). One can either use Facebook/LinkedIn page (1) or develop one's own website (2). Avni in this analogy would be like Squarespace - it gives you more power than 1 and keeps your development cost down too. Avni keeps your hosting cost low too unlike SquareSpace :-), but that is not part of analogy here.
Let us now turn our attention on how segment 2 should decide to choose, Avni or not. In our experience, the tradeoffs involved here are less well understood. When one compares a generic product, with what is possible via a custom solution a few factors are understood well:
But there are a number of factors that are not obvious when making this decision.
This is not to imply that one should never develop custom applications but that there are far more factors in favour of a generic product than meets the eye initially. The long term value and mitigation of risk must be looked closely before making the final decision.