Build vs. buy: evaluating commercial off-the-shelf and custom software options

Public Sector


A government system named among the top digital counties in the United States was leading the charge on a national issue that was growing with the use of technology. The client sought local opportunities to be more forward-thinking with its Digital Forensics and Evidence Management (DFEM) software. Improved DFEM software would allow evidence to be easily and securely shared between approved parties, thus eliminating the air gap that exists between pretrial and trial, since it must be converted to physical evidence (ie. USB stick) to admit in court. The client was not satisfied with off-the-shelf options, partially because they did not think those solutions took self-represented defendants or the public into serious consideration. The client believed every community member is entitled to the same consideration and access to this workflow, and software enables such access. The impact of this project would make the client a forerunner in the state of Virginia and raise the bar for digital evidence management everywhere.


SingleStone was asked to compile requirements and evaluate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and custom software options, resulting in a Build vs. Buy decision, but we went far beyond the initial ask to make sure the answer was correct.  ​

Rather than leap to an evaluation based on the considerable work already done, the team dug deeper to better understand the needs of every possible user. This included working with groups of stakeholders to build a comprehensive current state map using Domain- Driven Design (DDD) techniques, iterating through conceptual future state designs with business and technical leaders, validating maintainability constraints, and conducting vendor demos and interviews. ​

With security and simplification pinned as the leading requirements, we delivered Build vs. Buy analysis that evaluated: ​

  • Four off-the-shelf products ​
  • Hybrid solutions that included a combination of purchase and customization ​
  • Option for a custom software solution ​

These options were measured against qualitative and quantitative requirements that were collaboratively established over the course of the engagement.


The team ultimately offered a healthy mix of final recommendations for a path forward that weighed options against upfront cost, implementation effort, and support cost/effort. This roadmap will serve as the primary input to their budgeting process, fueling the discussion around when and how to spring a mutually agreed-upon solution into implementation.  ​

Build vs. Buy analysis serves as the future state roadmap for implementation of a hybrid system, built on the foundation of rapidly deployable off-the-shelf software and enhanced with strategic use of small, custom-built applications.​

The final evaluation was so thorough that it allowed the county the opportunity to bypass additional administrative processes, saving tens of thousands of dollars. ​

Once implemented, the DFEM system designed with our partners within the government system will become a model system that can be adopted at scale by other localities.   ​

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