The best-of-breed vs. integrated suite battle has been ongoing since integrated enterprise resource planning software first came on the scene. In the early days, buyers were forced to choose between stand-alone systems that performed one function very well (e.g., accounting, production planning) or one integrated system that offered modules for each function, but with varying degrees of functional depth.
Each approach presents its own merits and potential drawbacks. Early adopters of best-of-breed systems loved that they could get a robust system to address specific needs. Advocates touted how easy they were to implement and how much more feature-rich they were relative to integrated suite offerings. On the other hand, integrated suite users enjoyed having everything in one system and not having to integrate applications.
While these differences are still present, the industry has evolved to give buyers some of the best of both worlds. Over time, integrated suite ERP vendors such as SAP, Microsoft, Infor and Epicor have built functionality for just about every industry segment and business need. The push for true service-oriented architectures (SOA) is reducing integrated suites' historical rigidity, making modular implementations easier and reducing the total costs of ownership.
On the best-of-breed side, technologies such as .Net, J2EE, XML and SOAP make systems open and more easily integrated. Our 12-person company recently completed a simple SOAP integration with one part-time developer, for example. The recent trend towards software-as-a-service (SaaS) is also helping lower up-front costs of purchasing new systems.
If you find yourself deciding between implementing a best-of-breed application or an additional module from your existing ERP vendor, consider the following questions or check out our SMB Accounting Software Buying Guide:
1. Are your needs for the new application really that specialized, or can they be met by your ERP vendor's (potentially) broader offering?
A surprising number of buyers tend to think their business is unique. Software vendors have been addressing those unique needs long enough that many of them have been addressed in the packaged product.
2. Do you really need the systems integrated, or are you OK with two stand-alone systems?
A lot of buyers start the research process assuming that integration is essential, when many business functions are more disparate than they think.
3. Does your ERP vendor offer (or come close enough to offering) what you need?
As ERP vendors have built out functionality over time, many can meet more business requirements than their customers realize. If a vendor can't meet 100% of them, it may be worthwhile to sacrifice functionality for a smoother implementation.