Build vs Buy For Notification Service - Deciding Notification Infrastructure Development for In-House Teams

Nikita Navral
November 16, 2023
Build vs Buy For Notification System: The Ultimate Guide For Decision-Making in Notification Infrastructure Development

Product-generated automated notifications present a unique challenge: they need to reach the intended user at the right time, on the right channel and right frequency. Many companies opt to build in-house notification services for transactional and product notifications to maintain control, customize messages, and ensure security.

However, developing a specialized notification system in-house often involves trade-offs especially when you need flexibility, reliability, observability and security. You might lack the time or resources to build and monitor these systems, or the costs could strain your budget. Moreover, it's not just about creating the notification service; you must also address other notification-environment challenges, such as establishing user preference systems to prevent annoying notifications or getting blocked, which ultimately would impact business operations. 

While the appeal of an in-house notification system remains strong, it's essential to consider the opportunity cost of dedicating valuable resources to building and maintaining such a system simultaneously. Could you afford to divert attention away from your core product and business objectives?

Recently, a new wave of next-generation notification systems has emerged, offering a robust and flexible framework for product notifications. These systems not only enhance observability, but also elevate the experience of building notifications that are customer-centric.

Getting notifications right is challenging.

Developing a right notification system for web or mobile applications is a challenging task. It is so much more than just calling a vendor a vendor’s (or channel’s) endpoint to deliver the message. As businesses expand and introduce new features, the task of maintaining a reliable and scalable notification system can become more resource-intensive than initially expected. Developer time is valuable, and dedicating hours to managing notification services, crafting new notifications, making adjustments, experimenting, and handling alerts can significantly divert attention from core business innovation. 

Developmental Layers & Resources Needed From Engineering Teams

Before moving forwards in this build vs buy article, let's understand first what goes inside a robust notification system, so you can understand the dependencies and resources required. There are 9 key technical considerations in notification system development:

1. Integration with Other Systems and Platforms:

  • You would need integration with third-party providers, giving you access to various communication channels like SMS, email, push, and chat applications. Your product's reach expands significantly.
  • Through API responses and retry mechanisms, you facilitate efficient data exchange with external systems. Understanding delivery and failure reasons is necessary.
  • Backward compatibility with messaging channels safeguards your notifications against changes in third-party platforms, ensuring a consistent user experience.

2. Template Management:

  • Your journey takes you to efficient notification template creation and deployment. Imagine the ease of managing templates across different channels, all from a user-friendly interface.
  • Versioning mechanisms and automated deployment pipelines keep your templates up-to-date and agile. Changes are seamless.
  • Agile practices and continuous integration/ continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines empower you to adapt your templates efficiently. Your messages remain dynamic and engaging.

3. Notification Workflows:

  • Notification workflows serve as the foundation for determining who receives which notifications, through which channels, and at what intervals. These workflows have various decision-making processes and state management once an event is triggered, whether it's ensuring high delivery rates, issuing reminders, batching notifications for not bombarding, or simply designing seamless cross-channel communication. If built in-house, implementing such notification workflows requires developers to embed it within the codebase, necessitating ongoing maintenance and slowing down iteration. The more complex the logic, the higher is the maintenance cost.
  • Imagine a robust workflow engine accessible through both a visual interface and API, equipped with a comprehensive set of primitives right out of the box. With this, product teams can design and deploy complex workflows without extensive development efforts. Product teams gain full transparency into the inner workings of each notification, empowering them to further optimize workflows effortlessly.
Build Time for Single Notification System
Build time for multi-tenancy notification service

4. Ensuring High Availability and Reliability:

  • Your notification infrastructure requirements begin here with the goal of delivering notifications promptly and reliably. 
  • You lay a solid foundation through a message queue & distributed system architecture with redundant components, ensuring that your system remains resilient, even in the face of unexpected failures.
  • With load balancers and auto-scaling mechanisms at your disposal, you're well-prepared to handle spikes in traffic efficiently. Critical notifications are given priority over not-so-time-sensitive campaigns, resulting in uninterrupted service.
  • Observability, powered by monitoring tools, log analyzers, and automated alerting systems, ensures the health of your system, providing a seamless user experience.

5. A/B Testing, User Preferences, and Analytics:

  • To enhance user engagement, you would want continuous improvement, conduct A/B tests to optimize content, timing, and delivery. User engagement soars.
  • A flexible preference management system empowers your users, granting them control over their notification experience. Satisfaction levels rise.
  • Comprehensive metrics and real-time data analysis, enhanced by data visualization tools, lead to data-driven decisions and heightened user engagement.

6. Fallback Mechanisms Considerations for Redundancies:

  • You fortify your infrastructure with redundant components and failover mechanisms, ensuring uninterrupted service, even in the face of adversity.
  • Robust alerting and error-handling mechanisms log delivery failures, enabling observability and faster debugging.
  • Reliable message queues and retry strategies ensure notifications are delivered seamlessly every time.

7. Seamless User Experience Across Channels and Devices:

  • Your work continues with designing responsive, personalized, and dynamic notifications. The result? A consistent, engaging user experience.
  • Cross-channel delivery mechanisms reach your users through their preferred communication channels, boosting user satisfaction.
  • Intelligent message routing based on user preferences, geo-location, and contextual information enhances user engagement.
  • Synchronized notification states and responses across multiple devices and browsers create a seamless and satisfying user experience.

8. Security and Privacy of User Data:

  • You would be utilizing industry-standard encryption algorithms and protocols to secure communication channels and protect sensitive data both at rest and in transit. Your users' data is under lock and key.
  • Implement access controls, authentication mechanisms, and role-based permissions to ensure that only authorized personnel can access your notification systems.
  • Regularly apply security patches and updates to keep vulnerabilities at bay. 
  • Incorporate robust audit trails, providing the ability to track and investigate any security incidents. Rest easy knowing you can always uncover the truth.

9. Compliance with Industry Regulations and Standards:

  • Ensure compliance with relevant data protection regulations like SOC2, GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA.
  • Store  notifications and user data, aligning with regulatory requirements in different regions.
  • Conduct periodic audits and assessments, validating compliance and identifying any potential gaps.

10. Cost Management and Infrastructure Optimization:

  • Leveraging caching mechanisms and content delivery networks (CDNs) to reduce bandwidth and server costs.
  • Employing data compression techniques to minimize storage requirements.
  • Monitoring and analyzing resource usage to identify areas of optimization and cost-saving opportunities.
  • Implement intelligent channel and vendor routing to save costs. 

Building and maintaining a robust in-house notification system demands substantial time and development resources with varying priorities. Refer to the table below for an overview:

Pain Point Priority of Attention Time Estimate Resources Required
Ensuring High Availability and Reliability High 4-6 weeks Dedicated team
Integration with Other Systems and Platforms Moderate but must-do 2-3 weeks/ integration Integration experts
Seamless User Experience High Always ongoing Product managers, Content writers, UX/UI designers
Building Preference Management Moderate 4-5 weeks Engineering team
Scaling for Increased Traffic and Usage High 3-5 weeks Dedicated team
Compliance with Industry Regulations High 2-4 weeks Compliance specialists
Security and Privacy of User Data (In Product) High 4-6 weeks Security experts
Cost Management and Infrastructure Optimization Moderate 2-3 weeks Cost optimization team

Frameworks for Build V/S Buy Decision-Making in Notification Infrastructure

New-age platforms like SuprSend and Novu offer plug-and-play infrastructure for product-related notification systems. By leveraging their single notification APIs, businesses gain flexibility and abstraction, eliminating the need to build a notification system from scratch. Simply ‘Buy’ their subscription, integrate the API, and use their ready-made solution for seamless transactional notifications.

Annual Total Cost of Ownership - Build vs Buy

We evaluated these new-age platforms with the in-house development of notification systems using these commonly used frameworks. 

Feature-Benefit Analysis

When making a build v/s buy decision for transactional notification infrastructure, conducting a cost-benefit analysis can help assess the financial implications and potential advantages of each option. Check out here: 

Feature-Benefit Analysis Building In-House Buying a Third-Party Platform
Control and Customization Complete control and ability to tailor the solution, but development from scratch Access to advanced features and customization capabilities
Scalability and Performance Can optimize for specific requirements and handle high volumes, but dedicated/ partial dev ops needed for scaling and monitoring Built-in scalability to handle increasing traffic and usage
Security and Data Privacy Full control over security measures and data handling, but engineering resource needed for putting security & data privacy Reliance on vendor's security protocols and data privacy policies, but compliances already in place
Integration with External Systems Integration with external systems and processes needed Built in integrations available
Development Time 4-8 Weeks 1-day
Competitive Advantage Need a dedicated engineering team to give an excellent notification experience Quick access to a proven solution and faster go-to-market
Technical Expertise Skilled resources needed for development and maintenance Platform provides technical expertise and support
Resource Allocation Requires allocation of internal resources for development Can free up internal resources for core business activities
Support and Maintenance Internal team responsible for ongoing support and maintenance Platform provides support, updates, backward compatibility, and maintenance
Risks and Dependencies Inherent risks associated with development, observability, and maintenance Reliance on the platform for service availability and performance
Vendor Dependency N/A Potential impact if the platform discontinues or uptime is impacted
Employee Training Knowledge Gap on developer Exit Well-documented features don't require training

Decided To Go with Build?

Congratulations on making the decision!

Check out the essential components of a robust notification system, instilling customers’ trust in your product in A complete guide on Notification Service for Modern Applications in 2023

Also you should take care of certain complexities to fully harness the capabilities provided by your in-house notification infrastructure.

Challenges of maintaining and scaling:

Maintaining and scaling an in-house notification system can be a significant challenge, especially as the number of users grows. Here are some of the issues that developers may face:

  • Increased complexity: As the system grows, it becomes more complex, with more components, more code, and more dependencies. This can make it harder to build, maintain, debug, and scale.
  • Performance issues: As the number of users increases, the system must handle a higher volume of notifications, which can lead to performance issues. Developers may need to constantly monitor performance, optimize the system, and upgrade infrastructure to keep up with demand.
  • Observability: A common challenge coming out from the product teams is that they don’t have visibility of their failed notifications to a granular level, which would require the engineering team to develop a comprehensive analytics part of the notification system.
  • Auditing and Compliance: Ensuring compliance with data regulations and conducting comprehensive auditing becomes a critical concern as the system scales. Tracking and documenting notification activities for auditing purposes are essential to maintain legal compliance and data integrity. Developing robust auditing mechanisms that capture every interaction can be resource-intensive and complex.
  • Developer Fatigue and Knowledge Transfer: The challenges of maintaining and scaling an in-house notification system can contribute to developer burnout, motivation issues, and high-stress situations. Additionally, knowledge transfer and training become vital for continuity when team members leave the organization.
  • Cost control: Finally, there is always pressure to control costs, particularly when it comes to infrastructure and operations. Developers must carefully consider the cost implications of different design choices and optimization strategies and balance these against the needs of the business.

Fragmentation Challenges:

Building a notification system in-house can lead to fragmentation across different platforms and devices, resulting in an inconsistent user experience. Here are some ways that fragmentation can occur:

  • Platform Diversity: Users engage through web, mobile, or desktop platforms, each with unique technologies, posing a consistency challenge. For instance, push notifications on mobile devices rely on operating system-specific APIs, such as Apple Push Notification Service (APNs) for iOS and Google Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) for Android.
  • Device Variance: Users adopt diverse devices with distinct screen sizes and resolutions, leading to inconsistent notifications. Moreover, device-specific features, such as Doze mode on Android or Low Power Mode on iOS, can impact notification delivery and require customized handling.
  • OS/ Browser Heterogeneity: Users operate different OS like iOS, Android, or Windows, and browsers like Chrome, Safari, etc complicating notification harmonization.  For example, iOS imposes strict guidelines for push notifications, requiring careful consideration of factors like notification format, timing, and user consent. In contrast, Android offers greater flexibility but demands diligent monitoring of API changes and compatibility issues.
  • Organizational Fragmentation: Inter-team and departmental disparities can result in decentralized notification solutions, causing inefficiencies, inconsistencies, and redundancy. Centralization is essential for a cohesive and strategic notification approach.

The consequences of fragmentation can be severe, including

  • Decreased user engagement: If notifications don't work correctly or consistently across all platforms and devices, users may become frustrated and disengage from the application.
  • Negative brand perception: A poorly designed notification system can reflect badly on the brand, eroding user trust and loyalty.
  • Lack of product adoption: If users don't receive notifications, or receive too many, or find them confusing, they may not adopt new features or use the application to its fullest extent.

Once you can tackle these complexities, then your end-user engagement will soar automatically. Or you can just abstract away these complexities to a third-party notification infrastructure tool that takes care of observability and compliance, too. 

Decided To Go with Buy?

Excellent choice!

By choosing third-party notification solutions like SuprSend, you gain access to a range of top-notch features without allocating your valuable resources toward building these systems from scratch. Our platform offers the same powerful notification capabilities utilized by leading companies such as LinkedIn, Airbnb, Amazon, Slack, and many others.

Check out what you saved with SuprSend notification infrastructure: What you get with SuprSend

Our Customers Case-Study - Their Decision of Build v/s Buy

Seeking a Cost Comparison?

Reach out to us, and we'll create a personalized cost comparison chart to help you make an informed decision between building or buying your notification infrastructure. Cost Comparison

Written by:
Nikita Navral
Co-Founder, SuprSend

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