For as long as there have been integrated software platforms, the debate between purchasing best of breed software products or fully integrated systems has been an ongoing debate. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks. The most fascinating aspect of this conversation is that there is no clearly defined right or wrong answer. Both have their selling points as well as their costs. So making these types of complicated decisions requires a combination of science and art.
For some situations, the company decision maker actually has little choice but to go one direction over the other. That’s because specialized features of a particular software package may be inescapable. You simply have to have them. In that instance, you might choose to bring in a vendor who can provide a fully integrated platform that includes the must-have module already included in your site licensing agreement so that you can use it cost-free. Having said that, if you choose that route, it’s going to be hard to justify spending another $100,000 or so down the road on a best of breed application that has a functionality that is only slightly better and an interface that is a little nicer.
So what are your options if you aren’t the person making the choice between a best of breed application and a fully integrated platform?
Benefits of Best of Breed
First, best of breed systems, by their very definition, provide the best possible functionality. But that doesn’t always mean they also are the best in terms of standardization, data flow, data integration, vendor management, process flow, coordinated software upgrades and non-transferable skill sets.
When your software systems are fully integrated, you already have a superior integrated product set. That goes without saying. But some modules may actually be better choices than others. So you could have to deal with such issues as weaker functionality in some modules variations, having to rely too much on a single vendor, lack of simple integration with external software outside of existing vendor’s core product suite, and fewer controls over software upgrades in the future.
And when cloud-based software is thrown into the equation, these problems become both simpler and bigger. They are simpler due to the ease of operations that accompanies cloud-based products because the vendor takes over responsibility for upgrades, providing customer support, handling recovery efforts after a disaster, performing backups every night, and managing security data.
But the dangers of using cloud-based products with best of breed software packages or connecting it to a full product suite is that it further damages your data model by storing the primary copy of selected production data outside your firewall and away from your core business databases. While this cloud-based complication can often be worked through, it presents one more hurdle that must be overcome to achieve your objective of having a production environment that is stable and manageable.
Both software architecture types have their benefits and drawbacks. As a result, it’s a simple matter to desire the perceived top functionality of best of breed options or what you may think are the easier operational solutions of integrated platforms. So if you decide to invest the money, effort and passion associated with replacing your core systems, just make sure you are fully aware of the operational challenges your decision may cause on your future architecture. If you rush in without thinking it through, there’s a high possibility that your new product set could be just as challenging to support as your previous one.