Application Suites Versus Best-of-Breed: Is Less Really More?

By Donna Fluss

DMG is frequently asked if it’s better to purchase a suite of fully integrated applications or to invest in multiple best-of-breed solutions that require integration at the customer’s site. While the answer may seem obvious, particularly given the shrinking amount of internal IT resources in many companies, it’s not always a simple decision.

All Suites Are Not Created Equal: Part of the reason this question is challenging is that not all suites are created with the same level of functionality or integration. Integration has a different meaning depending on the individual vendor’s history and perspective. End-user expectations for integrated solutions also vary widely. As a result, the benefits of pre-integrated solutions differ considerably. In an ideal situation, a suite of applications is fully integrated, shares a common architecture, has a standard administration environment, delivers fully consolidated reports that share data between the various applications, and even provides functional synergy. In this case, an application suite is advantageous and beneficial for an organization—as long as each of the suite’s modules has the key functionality that the end user needs.

The challenge in using suites arises when individual modules or applications are not sufficiently feature-rich, not on par with stand-alone, best-of-breed applications, not fully integrated with other applications in the suite, do not share a common administration environment, and do not offer consolidated reports. While it’s helpful to reduce the number of vendors that a company has to deal with and manage, if the functionality of the individual suite modules is weak or not fully integrated, the headaches may be greater than the benefits. This is often the case when vendors purchase third-party solutions with the intent of integrating them into their platform, but then delay doing so. Anticipating the integration benefits, the buyer’s senior management may jump the gun and plan IT budget cuts and staff reductions. But during the implementation – surprise! – they learn that they now must hire additional resources to perform the promised integrations.

A Real-World Example: A great example comes from the relationship between contact center infrastructure solutions – automatic call distributors (ACDs) and dialers – and workforce optimization (WFO) solutions. Companies frequently purchase recording capability when acquiring a new contact center infrastructure solution; they may also decide to purchase quality assurance, speech analytics, voice of the customer, surveying, and workforce management modules at the same time.

For years, most of the contact center infrastructure vendors sold third-party WFO and recording solutions and then performed the necessary integrations. These custom integrations earned them a large amount of professional services revenue but annoyed their customers by adding complexity and cost to an already expensive task.

In the last two years, a number of contact center infrastructure vendors, as well as many of the cloud-based ACD providers, have started to offer their own fully integrated recording and WFO suites. Even though end users are paying a slight premium for the OEM version of these solutions, many are happy to do so to avoid custom integrations and reduce the number of vendors they need to manage. This has become a significant source of income for contact center infrastructure vendors.

Consider the Trade-Offs: Application suites make a great deal of sense unless the individual modules are functionally weak or not truly integrated. Therefore, prospects are encouraged to check the functionality of all the suite modules to ensure that they work as needed and to test the level of integration. Be sure to separate vendor promises from reality when making a selection. This can be done by checking references in an environment comparable to your own and by requesting a thorough product demonstration.

If a vendor promises that they will provide integration in the future, be sure to reflect all future work and timeframes in your purchase agreement, and include penalties for non-performance, as failure to integrate carries a significant cost. Keep in mind that some integrations are not as helpful as vendors would like you to believe. For example, regardless of vendor hype, there is not a great deal of synergy between workforce management and quality assurance applications. So, while it generally makes sense to purchase multiple applications from the same vendor, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Donna Fluss is the president of DMG Consulting and author of The Real Time Contact Center.

[From Connection Magazine September 2013]

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