Build it or Buy it?

A successful, modern syndicate looking to scale must have technology and operations that match up. Yet, with every request for a tech solution comes the question – build it or buy it?

Ed Anderson, Software Architect at Probitas, weighs up the answer.

“It’s not always clear from the outset which route to go down, especially with cloud-native, web-based solutions. There is a vast array of hosting and development options to choose from, ranging from self-managed, virtual machines to server-less “platform-as-a-service” offerings. Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The reality is there is no perfect architecture. It’s always a trade-off between many factors. Speed of deployment and application quality, particularly for a wide range of stakeholders, are acutely relevant to Lloyd’s Syndicates. The annual venture structure magnifies the importance of the here-and-now and creates a collective responsibility for delivering results.

When buying from a Vendor, you aren’t just buying a fast-to-deploy product. You’re buying access to new or different expertise. Not to mention the many iterations and learnings the vendor has experienced to this point.

Speaking to the vendor’s technology architects or developers is, in our experience, the fastest and least costly way to determine the quality and fit of a product.

All too often, you actually find yourself with an over-engineered, inelegant solution. Off-the-shelf products have to be generic enough to attract a wide audience, it’s designed to cover a multitude of scenarios. And, therefore, often overcomplicates the process.

Historically vendor selection felt like buying a “sledgehammer to crack a nut”. Stand-alone monolithic applications were hard to evaluate and contained many irrelevant features. Nowadays, the market has matured. Feature-rich, well-documented API’s are available and are much easier and quicker to appraise.

The other side of the coin is to build a solution yourself.

In this case, you are the architect of your destiny. You can keep the solution simple and focused, producing a higher quality elegant solution that addresses your specific problem.

However, deploying bespoke functionality is can be a slow process. It needs to be tested, and users must undergo training. Building bespoke IP is also expensive and can become restrictive in the longer term. You can spend long hours programming simple solutions that are already available via third-party platforms. You are also investing heavily in your in-house developer, as only they know the system’s intricacies.

It’s here that there is potentially an optimal trade-off between speed and quality. A half-way approach, a hybrid ‘off-the-shelf solution that is adapted and extended to work specifically for you.

We’re seeing more compelling ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) offerings from major software providers. I recently evaluated Azure Databricks, an Apache Spark based Analytics service, optimised for Big Data Analytics and AI. A service designed to work in stand-alone mode, with user access via a web portal and authentication via an active directory. Or, run in daemon mode, accessed programmatically using vendor provided software-development-kits or orchestrated via API from services including Azure Data Factory or Apache Airflow.

Solutions like this can either be deployed quickly as stand-alone applications or orchestrated into high quality, bespoke applications by in-house development teams.

With any technology solution, you want to create opportunity and competitive advantage by bringing the best of both worlds together. Our approach at Probitas has always been tech agnostic. And, as the Insurtech market in London continues to mature, we expect to continue to integrate and build new products and services into our technology stack.”