At the beginning of the year, we scrapped a custom time tracking system we had used for years in favor of a service called Harvest.  To be blunt, our custom system was dated and kind of sucked.  Harvest is much easier to use and has much better reporting tools.  The transition to Harvest has been super smooth, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

But that isn’t really what this blog post is about.

One of the best things about working at a company like the Brick Factory is that we have the skills  to build pretty much any web tool we can imagine.  Strangely, this lack of constraints has also been one of our biggest challenges.

Over my ten plus years working at The Bivings Group and now the Brick Factory, we’ve built a lot of proprietary tools.  The previously mentioned timesheet system.  A  Content Management System.  A mass email tool.  A custom search engine. A donation system.   I could go on.

Having started in the web development space in the late 1990s, we built a lot of this stuff because we had to.  There weren’t that many good, cost effective software options so building custom systems for our own use made sense.  We also built stuff because we like to.

But with the maturation of open source systems such as Drupal and WordPress and the rise of the software as a service model, building stuff ourselves started to make less and less sense.  We found that we were wasting time trying to solve problems other people had already solved.  We were also spending a ton of resources maintaining legacy systems that weren’t as a good as new stuff that was released recently.  So around five years ago, we transitioned away from using proprietary tools and embraced open source platforms and cost effective paid software.  We scrapped a lot of the tools we had spent so much time building.  It was hard, but necessary.

This is one of the smartest decisions we ever made.  This approach allows us to recommend the best possible solution for the specific client problem.  It has lead us to develop deep expertise in open source systems such as WordPress and Drupal.

Further, using existing software for most of our work has freed up a good chunk of R&D time.  We have used that extra time to solve problems that other people haven’t figured out yet.  We have built things that truly add value, like our enterprise media monitoring system and our online training platform.

Our philosophy now is to perform custom development as a last resort.  We only do custom builds if we are truly doing something others haven’t done before.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.