Our company 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 have to be integrated at the customer's site. While the answer may seem obvious, 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 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. As a result, the benefits of preintegrated solutions range 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, 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/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 (once you look under the hood), do not share a common administration environment, and do not offer consolidated reports. While it's helpful to reduce the number of vendors your company has to deal with and manage, if the functionality of the individual suite modules is weak or not fully integrated, the headaches may not be worth it. This is often the case when vendors purchase third-party solutions with the intent of integrating them into their platform, but 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 need to 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 modules when acquiring a new contact center infrastructure solution. (They may also purchase quality assurance, speech analytics, voice of the customer/surveying, and/or 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 integrations earned them a large amount of revenue, but annoyed their customers by adding complexity and cost to an already expensive task. In the last two years, a number of leading contact center infrastructure vendors, as well as many cloud-based ACD providers, have started to offer their own recording and WFO suites that come fully integrated. Even though end users pay a slight premium for the OEM'ed 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 very significant source of income for the contact center infrastructure vendors.
Consider the Trade-Offs
Application suites make sense, unless the individual modules are functionally weak or not truly integrated. Therefore, prospects are encouraged to check the functionality of all of the suite modules. 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 doing a thorough product demonstration. If a vendor promises that it is going to do an integration in the future, reflect all future work and time frames in your purchase agreement, and include penalties for nonperformance, 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.
Separate vendor promises from reality when making a selection.
Donna Fluss (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, marketing analysis, and consulting.