Suite vs. Best-of-Breed: A Question of Complexity

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From Cologne: Best-of-Breed Digital Transformation

In any enterprise technology platform, there will by necessity be numerous individual components. Companies are therefore always faced with the question, “Should we implement the components of a vendor’s pre-integrated application suite or integrate the parts of a best-of-breed solution?”

For marketers, suite options will often seem more appealing for two reasons: better user interfaces and avoidance of the proverbial “IT bottleneck.” Application suite vendors – because they are trying to address the fundamental needs of a wide range of business users – usually do a better job of delivering good product usability than do the integrators of best-of-breed components. The latter are generally highly technical resources whose solutions may sometimes offer more exact matches with IT’s requirements. Usability, however, is the last mile they often don’t see the need to travel.

But digital marketing solutions – even pre-integrated suites – always require customization. To meet any organization’s needs, various modules will need some level of redesign, modification, and extension, not to mention integration with CRM, ERP, DAM, BPM, portal, e-commerce, and other third-party enterprise applications. Newly-tweaked modules will then require re-integration, and so on.  Suddenly, the promise of “suite synergy” fades. So, the relevant question becomes, “Do we agree to accept the integration decisions a vendor made in its construction of an application suite, or are our requirements unique enough to justify the selection and integration of independent modules?” The answer is often not simple.

Rather than looking at suite versus best-of-breed as a question with a single answer, consider assessing where your current technology requirements and strategic goals fit on a spectrum of technical and process complexity. When digital marketing technical requirements and business process workflows match those of the market in general, implementation of suite solutions tends toward the less labor-intensive end of the range and may be a good fit. If on the other hand, technical requirements and business processes are especially complex or unique, the time and effort required to implement suite-based solutions may surpass that of best-of-breed options. Furthermore, best-of-breed approaches usually provide better matches with customer requirements in complex or unique use cases.

In a nutshell, the value proposition of digital marketing suites can be positive or negative, and real or imaginary – but at first glance usually seductive. In some cases – those in which there is a match between customer requirements and vendor integration choices – suites may be the right decision. To make the right choice, organizations need to be accurate in their assessments of organizational resources (expertise, staffing levels, budgets, etc.), technical requirements, business process complexity, and level of commitment to stated marketing goals. Selecting a technology platform for the company you would like to be – rather than for the one you actually are – is a mistake that you may never recover from.