A single Goliath or best of breed

No single off-the-shelf system will exactly meet all of your organizational needs. The trick is finding the set of solutions that meet your organization's needs and that work well with each system within that set of solutions.

When most people set out to purchase a new enterprise system, they look to that new system to provide all the answers.  The think that every problem they've ever had will be solved by some magical new system.

Unfortunately, this is never the case.  No single off-the-shelf system will exactly meet all of your organizational needs. There are always unique components to every organization and every situation.  The trick is finding the set of solutions that meet your organization's needs and that work well with each system within that set of solutions.

The process of selecting a Goliath

There is a natural rhythm to selecting a new enterprise system.  You start out in a dreamer phase - where everything that might possibly be of value in the system is put up on a whiteboard somewhere.  Documents start floating around as "draft" requirements. These documents eventually become very large as more and more detail surrounds each requirement.  (Tracking where these pseudo-requirements come from is rarely done at this stage.)

Once this stage of the cycle has been completed, the pursuit begins.  Systems are identified as candidates.  Those candidates are preliminarily matched against the requirements document.  Often times, it is discovered that there are no systems that meet all of the requirements, so the group goes back to convert requirements into "nice-to-have" options, and the pursuit process starts again. Eventually, the list of "nice-to-have" features becomes longer than the requirements.  As a result, the end solution barely resembles the one that everyone envisioned in the first place.

In addition to the loss of many, if not all, of the "nice-to-have" options, the other challenge in finding a new master system is that every product has its strengths and weaknesses.  Just because a product is the best for one situation doesn't necessarily mean it's the best for another.  For instance, Microsoft Word is recognized as the leading word processing program; however, until five years ago, it was relatively difficult to do mail merges. The challenge has since been corrected, but it was a weakness in the product.  Every large product has these weak points.  The challenge occurs when you are seeking a solution that is the very best in all, or nearly all, aspects.  It's likely that there will be at least one weakness in the product.

The challenge is to manage the "dreamer" phase so that the end solution does not become radically different than the original vision and the Goliath can be what it was envisioned to be.  This is a challenge that very few organizations are able to successfully conquer.

Best of breed

Unlike the approach of finding one Goliath, the best of breed approach seeks out easy-to-integrate solutions where the product strengths are aligned with the needs and requirements of the organization.  Because each solution is not intended to solve the entire problem, but rather a focused part of the problem, it is much less likely that a weak spot will exist in a component that is important to the organization.

The promise of a best of breed approach to finding an enterprise solution is that it will more tightly align with the business needs and will be more effective for the organization.  The challenge is in finding and implementing solutions that are easy to integrate. The best way to address that challenge is to find products with pre-built integrations that require little or no customization.

Integrating two products without a framework or guideline can be very difficult.  Integrating two products where an interface has already been written is easier.  Integrating two products that are designed to work together is generally very simple.

The benefit of the best of breed approach is that you are not forced to choose a single product and then live with its features and limitations.  You can find a set of solutions that meet your needs.

The strategy

Building a strategy around the acquisition of an enterprise solution is not complicated.  It follows the predictable pattern of gathering requirements, creating criteria, evaluating criteria, and negotiating the purchase.  However, hidden within this process is the subtlety of knowing how many solutions to look for to solve your problems.

The question becomes, how many problems are you really trying to solve?  On the one hand, you're trying to find an enterprise solution to tie together all of the departments within the organization.  On the other hand, you're trying to find solutions to the problems that the accounting department faces, with which the distribution team struggles, or that the executive team ponders.  The first view leads to a Goliath solution -- one solution has to fit all of the problems.  The second view leads to a best of breed approach.

The best of breed approach may not be the approach for you; however, giving it due consideration when facing the problems of an organization will prevent predictable patterns that so often lead to disappointment.

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