Which is better? An all-in-one system or an integrated best-of-breed system?
The debate has been raging for years. Suppliers of all-in-one systems and ‘point’ systems both argue convincingly that their approach is superior while the consensus of those who profess to be independent is “it depends”.
The reality is that the decision is not binary. It is possible to have the best of both worlds.
An all-in-one solution is a comprehensive suite of software that links every component across the entire organisation using one central database.
Generally less expensive with lower initial cost and ongoing maintenance and support costs
A single unified system with a single user interface for the entire organisation
Integrated and consistent business processes throughout all modules in the value chain
Consistent data-model for the entire organisation
The components of the system should work together out of the box
Only one partner/vendor to deal with
May be harder to use due to inferior UI resulting in low adoption
Lacks some needed functionality and features and contains functionality and features that will never be needed and may be slow or difficult to add features or functions
Larger-scale (probably slower and more complex and hence more risky) implementation
Difficult to switch – vendor lock-in
Risk of technological dead-end if the system does not remain current
Best-in-breed is the strategy of selecting the best product for each of your business requirements and integrating them as required.
Latest, purpose-built technology with all the features and functions needed (and then some)
Implementation in small, fast stages – which is safer
Better User Experience for each product
Optimal product for each department or area of business
Work with specialised vendors/partners with specialised support, training and consulting
Minimise risk - can readily replace one product/component in the system
Maintain or upgrade each product without affecting the rest of the system
Higher cost and complexity of multiple systems
More complex and costly to maintain and support as all products will change regularly
Multiple user interfaces make it harder for users to learn. No common ‘look and feel’
Cost of management of multiple (sometimes smaller) vendors and agreements
Difficulty troubleshooting when problems arise due to "finger pointing" among vendors.
Cost and possible difficulty of integrating the products and sharing data across the different system components
Doesn’t easily support a business process method
The reality is more complicated than suggested by the all-in-one vs best-of-breed dichotomy. Many organisations have both all-in-one AND best-of-breed systems - and for good reasons.
All-in-one systems are evolving into platforms with optional components covering the most common functionality and with the ability to readily integrate with other systems. Microsoft 365 is an excellent example. M365 provides foundational applications such as Word, Excel, and Teams, and the whole D365 suite can be seamlessly enabled to provide powerful CRM and ERP functionality. But users of Microsoft 365 are not forced to use Dynamics 365 ERP, for example. They can readily integrate with a non-Microsoft ERP or accounting system – like Xero. This may make good sense if the existing non-Microsoft system is perfectly adequate.
Best-of-breed systems are getting more numerous and more specialised. For example, there are specialised, industry-specific systems for Insurance and for Utility companies that are used instead of the traditional ERP systems.
This means the optimal system is likely to be made up from both all-in-one systems (or platforms) and some best-of-breed systems. Indeed, most of Magnetism’s clients have both types of systems. Although Magnetism’s expertise is with the Microsoft 365/Dynamics 365 power platform, we have advised and helped some clients to integrate best-of-breed systems into their Microsoft platform in order to simplify the overall system and to introduce key functionality that is better achieved via the best-of-breed alternative.
You will need to answer the following questions before you make decisions about the system architecture:
1. What functionality is really needed?
2. What functionality and user experience would provide significant efficiency – and how much is that worth?
3. What functionality and user experience would provide significant competitive advantage - and how much is that worth?
4. How much do the systems cost?
5. How much system integration is needed and what is the cost of integrating the systems?
6. What is the ongoing cost associated with training, maintenance and support of the systems and managing the relationships with vendor-partners?
Then you can work through the Pros and Cons for All-in-one and Best-of-breed systems, taking note of the Pros and Cons that apply to the options you are considering.
If you are not sure, consider paying for some independent advice. The IT system is likely to be a key contributor to your organisation’s success. Making good decisions about your IT system leads to efficiency and customer satisfaction.