"In-house" versus "Off-the-shelf"

This topic contains 7 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Ted O’Neill 6 years, 1 month ago.

  • Author
  • #24811

    ed3d (Peter)

    First thoughts from slightly more of an individual rather than necessarily a project-based perspective http://longposts.com/32486803

  • #24812

    ed3d (Peter)

    That link seems broken. Try http://longposts.com/32486755

    • #25255

      Tom Franklin

      Interesting post. I think that it is worth looking into the history of these things, and in nearly all cases what we see is that initially universities have developed their own thing in house, because there was no alternative, and then later moved to commercial offerings. This is true of operating systems (developed in house until IBM, DEC, Microsoft etc started producing them). It was also true of word processors for a while, what emerged into VLEs until Blackboard, Moodle etc came along.

      I think this reflects two things. First, the total cost of ownership – which includes development / licensing (including enhancements, support (both systems and staff) and training. It also includes risk, in particular the risk of the company the product is licensed from ceasing to develop the product, or the loss of in house skills to maintain the product.

      However, the real reason that so many products are moved from in-house to off-the-shelf is that a product – whether it is a VLE, operating system or assessment tool – requires significant development effort to keep up with new ideas. If this is carried by a single university it is either expensive, difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in technology. The result is that most home grown products look rather dated after five years or so, and many universities then drop it in favour of off the shelf products.

  • #24906

    Julie Voce

    Hi Peter, you raise an important point about longevity. One disadvanatage of externally-sourced solutions which have been developed specifically for you is the level and cost of support and maintenance afterwards which isn’t always factored into the original plans. But even with in-house solutions, often institutions run the risk of relying on one or two skilled individuals who may leave the institution and leave you with a product that is difficult to maintain.

  • #24910

    ed3d (Peter)

    Thanks for your comment, Julie. Good point about support costs and I agree that there are pros and cons to both approaches.

  • #24945

    Rose Heaney

    And another very specific issue we had when we employed an external to develop our initial Second Life simulations was IP – who owned the rights to what? However overall it was successful as we simply didn’t have the in house expertise at the time. As you say Peter there are always pros & cons.

  • #25143

    Santanu Vasant

    Choosing the right off the shelf company if you do go down that route is also very important, so you don’t have a company who might be out of business in 18-24 months after buying their software or hardware product. I agree with the other points – especially about the in house specialist leaving and even if it is an off the shelf product, it might be that one person in the team is more skilled in that system, so training and knowledge sharing especially in a small learning technology team is very important.

    Choosing systems for the needs of the institution is tricky and won’t please everyone. Communication about why you have chosen x over y is also very important in my view.

  • #25431

    Ted O’Neill

    I’ve been wrestling with several different “in house vs off-the-shelf” choices lately. A different IP issue form Rose’s has us going to “off-the-shelf” in one area-support for TOEFL and IELTS in a newly forming faculty at a Japanese university. Our own skills and content courses, will be mainly “in house” with “off the shelf” aspects integrated as appropriate, but for test prep, almost anything we do is likely to be inferior to what the actual companies ETS and British Council can provide because they own it. Nice little business they have going.


    On the other hand, we need digital portfolios for student-created work, community building, assessment, and publishing. It is very hard to find anything “off the shelf” that ticks all of the boxes for us. We may have to re-implement for ourselves something not unlike the ocTEL infrastructure. (One reason I’m here!) Finding a company to hire to do that looks difficult, so it may be “in house” using pieces off the neighbor’s shelf so to speak.

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