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

April 26, 2023

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

Drilling Software
Written by
Sachee Perera

Choosing between building your own custom software or using off-the-shelf subscription 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 week, 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 subscribing’ 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.


A quick 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 clunky and outdated or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 digital tools.

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 have 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 subscription 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.

Pros and cons of building your own drilling software.

So, how do these pros and cons compare to 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 sold as 'ready to use' or ‘off-the-shelf’ directly to customers for a monthly or annual subscription fee. This 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 the most popular options on the market if you’d like to know more about what’s out there. 

Right now, we're seeing technology-driven drilling companies subscribing to SaaS products instead of building their own. Industry titans like DDH1 and Topdrill, along with specialised boutique drillers like Seismic Drilling, GRM and many others, are spearheading this change.

Some of the reasons why drilling companies are switching from custom to SaaS or choosing SaaS products over custom as they digitise their operations for the first time include:

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.



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.



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 the software product and your data.

The lines can get a little blurrier with some SaaS provides. Always read the fine print to see who owns the data and check if there are any costs involved with exporting your data or leaving the platform.

Our software demo guide for drillers explores this topic in further depth if you need some guidance on what to look for before signing the dotted line.

PS If you were wondering, CorePlan customers own their own data and have unlimited free data exports.


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 much 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. A custom project can take a long time 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 want a product that 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:

Software as a service vs custom software for drilling teams.

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.

Think of it this way, if you were shopping for a tool to use for video chatting 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 a major competitive advantage be gained that would outweigh the cost of building your own Zoom? 

On the other hand, SaaS customers can take advantage of the best practice workflows, get started faster and save resources. This should tick most of the boxes for most drilling companies. 

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. 


The thing about running a business is it should be focused. As a drilling company, the focus should be on winning clients and drilling more metres. Not building software.

If you’re looking for drilling software that just works and that your team actually want to use - and you want it right now - a drilling SaaS product like a digital operations platform might be for you!

If drilling SaaS sounds 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.

Want to learn more about drilling software? Read our blog on the types of software solutions drilling companies are using.

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