Business Agnostic Software – Buy rather than Build

A solution that you can apply to any business at all, is what I might call business agnostic software. If you feel the urge to build such software, think again.  Buy it instead.

Examples of business agnostic software

An insurance company maintains correspondence with the insured.  The company buy’s or subscribes to an email service.  It does not build the email service from scratch.

A bank generates statements, and various notices that the government mandates.  For this, a bank might need a template engine that generates PDF.  Buy that template engine.  The bank itself will have to build the templates for these business documents.

All companies have business processes that they wish to start, track, execute, and end.  This is what BPM (Business Process Management) engines are for.  Buy that BPM engine.  The business can implement its business processes using the BPM engine it buys.

Health insurance companies that are in the Medicare business, receive beneficiary information from the government.  Many rules determine how the company responds to this information.  A company could use a rule engine to manage these rules.  Buy that rule engine.   The company should stick to only implementing the rules.

Wait, here is the simplest example.   Why do you buy a database management system?   You don’t build an alternative to SQL Server, or Oracle, do you?

Why avoid building business agnostic software

The primary purpose of an Enterprise IT shop is to support the business. Learning the business, analyzing it, modeling it, and implementing it, is a significant challenge in itself.  Focus on that.  Master that before taking on other problems.

Business agnostic software focus on more general problems.

Take rule engines for instance.

  • What is a rule?
  • How can rules be combined to produce new truth?
  • Devise an algorithm that can execute 10,000 rules in a few seconds.

An insurance company could use a machine that answers those questions.  Does a health insurance company want to spend time and money on building that machine?  For most companies there will be little value in it.

People spend their lifetimes studying these fundamental questions.  There are PHds galore in rule systems.  Let them build the rule engine. You confine yourself to identifying an effective rule engine, and using it well.

We do build business agnostic software though

I am surprised by how often Enterprise IT shops end up building business agnostic tools.

In my work experience, I have seen home grown solutions to these problems, which are best left to the experts.

  • A web framework
  • An Service Locator/IOC container
  • A rule engine
  • A BPM engine
  • A scheduler

We can never avoid this completely.  Start with management that lacks engineering savvy, throw in gung-ho developers, and mix with institutional inertia.  Less than optimal decisions will happen. So it goes.


Some companies do focus on fundamental problems.

They have deep pockets.  They have the means to invest in fundamental research.  Their business model, their operating ethos, includes such effort.

Their business problems are of such scale and complexity that currently available solutions are inadequate.  They must invent new solutions themselves.

Unix and C came out of  AT&T.  Ericcson created Erlang.   UML came out of research at GE, and IBM, among other places.  Xerox pioneered Graphical User Interfaces, and Object-Oriented Programming.

Ask yourself.  Are you one of these companies? I am confident most Enterprise IT shops would say, no.