Why business software solutions from a single supplier may not do the answer

This is to follow on from the blog article where we shared some of our thoughts on why we feel that a ‘best of breed’ approach to software solution delivery is ok. And before we start, let’s be clear, we’re absolutely not saying that all single supplier, fully integrated solutions are ‘rubbish’. That would be foolish and short-sighted as many businesses are running very successfully using them.

What solutions are available?

Consider that we are looking at what single supplier, fully integrated solutions are available for small and medium-sized businesses only.

What fully integrated business software solutions are available for small and medium-sized? The answer is actually very few, certainly if you use the word ‘affordable’ in that question. Most of the ones available (and the ones that we find ourselves up against in tender opportunities) are niche industry-specific solutions, which by their nature are difficult to win against anyway. (But that’s not to say impossible! See “How to win software solution tenders against industry-specific systems” coming soon.)

The problem with single supplier solutions

In summary:

  • Weak areas of the overall software solution
  • Lack of flexibility within the individual modules
  • Inability to grow with your business
  • Reliance on the author to progress the solution

Single supplier solutions is that they are typically weak in some area. They are simply trying to do too much and even with the authors best intentions, the footprint of the software can’t effectively be ‘all things’. (And that may be why there aren’t many solutions out there which are affordable to the small and medium-sized business owner – it’s simply not commercially viable for an author to develop a solution!)

Pushing the software too far, coupled with a possible lack of expertise in a particular area of business as to what’s really required, mean that the module may be poorly developed and compromises may be made. This could be functional compromise and certainly reduced flexibility resulting in a piece of software which may not be able to grow with your business.

This final reason relates to our general preference for the ‘best of breed’ approach: it’s the flexibility to take the component parts piece-by-piece as your business requires them, evolve them as your businesses requirements change and indeed replace them if you do outgrow them. With the single supplier approach, you are dependent on them to build their solution to support your businesses evolution.

Examples in the real world

We don’t want to ‘name and shame’ any particular single-supplier solutions here. As we said from the outset – all of them certainly have their place, plus that type of ‘negative campaigning’ is not the way we work. To illustrate the point though, we thought we’d look at the applications we promote, sell and implement. These aren’t single-supplier solutions, but they definitely do have ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ functional areas.

Example 1 – ACT! by Sage – a fantastic (and cost-effective) contact manager which also has a quoting tool. The quoting is ‘weak’ though – one ACT! Trainer once told me that when trainees ask about it, they simply tell them not to use it!!!? Reporting can also be ‘challenging’ and there are other add-on report solutions available on the market which do a much better job.

Example 2 – Microsoft Dynamics CRM– there are so many things that this application is good at, but again a very weak quoting tool. One of the UK’s leading Microsoft CRM consultant resellers once told me that when people ask about it, he says “don’t, use QuoteWerks”.

Example 3 – QuoteWerks sales quotation tool – great at quoting (and ordering and invoicing) but the ‘contact manager’ simply doesn’t deserve that title and stock control is ‘weak’.

Example 4 – Sage 50 Accounts – a terrific accounting package, the quoting (again!) is a weak area.

That’s not to say that any of the above ‘weak features’ shouldn’t be used – maybe they are sufficient for your business and do the job perfectly well enough. But, as with any job – fixing a car, fitting a kitchen or running a business – you are much more productive using the right tools. Coupled with this, the aforementioned packages are very good and incredibly flexible in the jobs that they are good at – they have huge capacity to evolve their usage as your businesses requirements evolve.

How to decide on the best solution for your business

When you need to do ‘a job’, ask yourself:

  • What is an appropriate tool?
  • How frequently will I need to do this job?
  • How is this job likely to change or evolve over the next few years?
  • What compromises would I take in being able to this job with maximum efficiency?
  • What tool(s) do I really need?

There’s no point taking a tank to shoot a pigeon, but on the other hand neither is there taking a pea shooter…

And finally…

Please share your thoughts and experiences of ‘best of breed’ software solutions versus those provided by a single supplier by commenting here or emailing development@hilltopsit.co.uk

Thanks; we look forward to hearing from you.

Steve and the Hilltops IT team.

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