Build your own drilling software or SaaS. Which is right for you?

Choosing between building your own custom software or using an off the shelf drilling operations software is a decision that will have an enormous impact on your business.

Your drilling operations software will define every aspect of how your team completes their work, from submitting daily drill reports to invoicing your clients. That’s a lot of time spent using the platform each day, let alone each month or year!

There are loads of articles online about the pros and cons of different types of software, but it’s much harder to find information specific to the needs of drilling businesses. 

This article will review the 'build your own vs SaaS’ argument from a drilling perspective. Then, we’ll share some general advice and insight to help you decide on the best solution for your team. 

Let’s get started.

 

Background

Drilling software has changed massively in the last few years.

Until recently, the only options available to drilling companies were:

  1. prohibitively expensive 
  2. clunky and outdated or
  3. both!

Almost all of the industry’s software belonged to the big players who had the money to build custom solutions. Everyone else was left behind to use pen and paper or retrofitted solutions from other industries to manage their drill programs. 

But, today, there are multiple low-cost, off the shelf software solutions on the market, and the price of building your own software is falling. As a result, we are seeing more and more drillers ditch their clipboards and spreadsheets for end-to-end digital workflows.

Because change has happened so quickly, many drilling professionals tell us they don’t know where to start when evaluating their options. This is especially the case for small to medium-sized drillers who had been priced out of the market and never been able to consider software as a viable option for their business. They want to know how the legacy custom solutions that their mates at large drilling companies use stack up against new off-the-shelf Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions like CorePlan.

Let’s take a quick look at custom and SaaS software and their differences. Then, we’ll take a deeper dive into the factors drilling professionals should consider when choosing the best drilling software for their businesses.

 

What is custom drilling software?

Custom drilling software is built by a software development company according to the customer’s exact specifications. Once the software is created, you become the official owner and can do whatever you like with it.

If you’re reading this blog you may have read a bit about the pros and cons of building your own software. But here’s a quick refresher as they relate to drilling.

The pros and cons of custom software for drilling

So, how do these pros and cons compare to those of Software as a Service? Read on to find out.

 

What is SaaS?

SaaS is a really common type of software. You’re probably already using SaaS products like Xero, Zoom or Netflix every day, without ever having thought much about it.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is software sold as 'ready to use' or ‘off the shelf’ directly to customers for a monthly or annual subscription fee. This kind of software is typically developed through consultation with drilling companies and industry professionals to create a ‘best practice’ workflow to suit a range of drilling customers’ needs.

There are a small number of drilling operations software solutions on the market today. We’ve created a handy guide summarising these here if you’d like to know more about what’s available. 

The key benefits of SaaS include:

Some of the pros and cons of off the shelf drilling software

 

What does this mean for drilling professionals?

Let’s dive deeper into these high-level pros and cons of each type of software and review their practical impact on drilling businesses.

 

Cost 

Until recently, pricing was the only real deciding factor for drilling companies. Either you had the money - or not. But, thanks to a new generation of affordably-priced SaaS products, drillers can decide based on more than just the bottom line. 

Unfortunately, there’s no way around it - building custom software is expensive. Not only is the upfront pricing high, but the costs don’t stop once you get the final version of the product. You’ll also be on the hook for all future maintenance, infrastructure and security costs, any updates or new feature developments and the developer’s time to train and support your team (or the cost of internal staff to manage this).

An additional unseen cost is productivity loss while waiting for your software to be ready. You'll have to keep using the existing solution that caused you to look for new software in the first place.

SaaS customers come out on top when it comes to price. The upfront and ongoing costs of using a SaaS product are much more affordable. The subscription pricing model sets how much you’ll pay each month, making it easier to plan and stick to your budget.

 

Time

How quickly do you need to start using your new drilling operations platform?

Like any organisational change, a software switch doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you choose to go SaaS or custom, you’ll need to allocate sufficient time to test your solution before rolling it out across your entire operations. Don’t forget the additional time requirements for staff training.

If you need to make a change immediately, SaaS is likely your best option, as you can skip the time taken to build your new platform from scratch. For example, with CorePlan, a small to medium-sized driller should expect somewhere between 8-10 weeks from signing the contract to full organisational rollout. This includes a fully-guided training program led by a dedicated account manager and one month of testing on a pilot project.

A custom solution is more difficult to put a timeline on. It would depend on your developer's experience and understanding of the drilling workflow. To build a project from scratch, you would likely want to allow at least a year for the build and testing. 

When it comes to software, the work never really stops. Continuous operating system updates and hardware changes mean that you’ll need to take charge in making sure your product stays current and meets the changing needs of your business over time. Owning your own software means you need to take on these responsibilities or continue paying your developer to do this for you. 

If software development is not a core focus of your business, it’s worth asking the question if this is how you want to allocate precious time and resources. 

 

Control and ownership

One of the things that makes custom software attractive is that it offers you complete control and ownership over both your product and data.

The lines can get a little blurrier with SaaS, depending on your provider. When signing a SaaS contract, read the fine print to see who owns the data and if there are any costs involved with exporting your data or leaving the platform.

In case you were wondering, CorePlan customers own their data and have unlimited power to export it, free of charge. 

 

Agility and flexibility

Do you know what your operational requirements will be in a year? What about five or even ten years? Nobody can predict the future, but there’s one thing we all know: the only constant thing is change.

SaaS customers are at an advantage because the onus is on the provider to keep pace with the industry. If they can’t do this, they stand to lose their customers.

Conversely, many drilling professionals are stuck using outdated custom software that no longer serves its purpose. Why? Because it cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, to produce and maintain over the years. From a manager’s point of view, throwing that investment away is unthinkable. But really, by maintaining the status quo, productivity is slowing down and preventing the business from being able to respond to a changing industry. 

SaaS lowers the stakes of change by providing flexibility. If you are unhappy with the platform or your needs change, you can cancel your subscription and switch to another provider. 

Rallying your team to undergo another training and onboarding process isn’t ideal. Still, it might be an easier decision to make compared to abandoning or shelving a custom product that’s already consumed hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

 

Workflow optimisation

A common argument in the ‘custom vs SaaS’ debate is that SaaS is a generalist option built to cover as many needs as possible rather than nailing one.

This is true in some cases, but the difference with drilling operations software is built specifically for drilling, which has a reasonably defined set of needs. All drilling companies need to be able to plan their drill programs, drill the holes and record the data, bill their clients and manage their safety commitments.

Does your custom software developer understand drilling? Of course, a software developer’s speciality is software, not drilling. This is important because they will need to spend time understanding your requirements and may not be able to anticipate your needs.

A historical argument for custom software is that it is better because it can be engineered from the ground up with a specific integration in mind. This is technically true - a custom build can be designed to integrate with any software you want, so long as you have the time and budget to build the integration. However, today’s SaaS products can also do this right out of the box, using APIs, webhooks or .csv exports. Many also offer direct integrations that give you a seamless experience between two tools, eg a payroll system and accounting package.

 

Does it actually  work?

So, you might be thinking at this point - this all sounds great, but it’s a lot to consider. At the end of the day, will it actually help our team get things done, or just add unnecessary complexity to our workflow?

Well, you’d be absolutely right. The ultimate test for any software package is that it needs to ‘just work’ for its users. Regardless of the amount of money or time spent on a software project, if it doesn’t make life easier for its users, they won’t use it, making the project redundant.

This is where the importance of user experience comes into play - a process that takes a lot of research, trial and error. 

Unfortunately, ‘translating’ a manual workflow onto a digital platform is a lot more complex than you might think. The development team needs to plan and test the repercussions of every data point that enters the system to work as intended.

The key to getting this right is to get a critical mass of data. This can take a long time for a custom project as you have a small set of users and projects. You’ll also be paying for the ongoing development, testing, and training costs for every update and feature release.

In contrast, SaaS companies have many customers and users, making it easy to test and refine processes faster and at scale. The feedback received from a diverse range of users involved in beta testing programs helps create the best possible experience for everyone. Comparatively, it’s also much cheaper for everyone as costs are shared across all customers' subscriptions. 

So, if you’re wanting a product that just works from day one, without having to go through various stages of implementation and revisions, SaaS might be the better choice for you. 

 

Final thoughts

Regardless of the decision you make, there will be pros and cons. We’ve summarised the key points here:

The pros and cons of custom and SaaS software for drilling companies summarised

Ultimately, the custom vs SaaS drilling software decision comes down to one key question: is the level of customisation you think you need critical to success?

Custom software isn’t a one and done job; it’s an ongoing consideration for your business. Taking advantage of the best practice workflows, getting started faster and saving resources should tick most if not all of the boxes for most drilling companies. 

Think of it this way, if you were shopping for a tool to use to video chat with your team, would you hire a software developer to build you a product from scratch, or would you just use Microsoft Teams or Zoom? Would there be a major competitive advantage to be gained that would outweigh the cost of building your own Zoom? 

Most SaaS products on the market today have undergone a vetting process with the industry or hired experts to advise them on best practice workflow. In particular, small or growing drilling businesses can benefit from this as it’s expensive to hire a consultant or advisor to make similar recommendations. 

Tl;dr? If you’re looking for drilling software that just works and that your team actually want to use, and you want it right now, drilling SaaS might just be for you!

Does drilling SaaS sound like a match with your needs? Schedule a free demo with our friendly sales team to see how CorePlan can help you grow your drilling business.

If you'd like to keep reading about drilling software, check out our blog on the types of software solutions drilling companies are using

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