The Return of the Suite

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The suite is back. I have said and written that a good number of times in the past few years.

And that is a good thing (that the suite is back, not that I said it, of course), because one of the major challenges with a best of breed approach is integration.

The suite is back, but it is in an incarnation that vastly differs from what we knew about suites back in the times before cloud computing and Salesforce brought back a supremacy of best of breed over the suite.

Integrating different pieces of software from different vendors into one coherent whole is easily accounting for one third to one half of project budgets. And this part of the overall cost for implementing new software is often plaid down by best of breed vendors.



Which is not a crime, especially if the benefits of the best of breed software outweigh the cost of integration.

However.

Often it does not. And not openly addressing cost of integration backfires.

Always.

Believe me. If you research my background well enough you will find out why you should. Little hint: I am not only writing about things.

Another strong argument in favor of the suite is the platform war that is currently going on.

Why?

Simply, because a platform is not only a technical platform.

It is more. A platform consists of mainly four pieces:

  • a technical platform
  • the ability of turning data into insight,
  • an ecosystem,
  • and productivity support.

And, very importantly, a necessary capability that is provided by the technical platform is integration. Some other aspects include the provision of unified user interface an open enhancement model and solution management capabilities.

And it is here, where the suite in its new incarnation has its real strengths. The suite, as it existed back in the early days of this millennium, was built as a monolithic software stack. Just think of how a CRM solution built by SAP, Oracle, or even Siebel looked like.

Again, this is not a bad thing but simply how an integrated software suite looked like. A main reason for this was the state of technology. And it had its advantages, too. Still, it caused overhead that customers didn’t want to pay for and deployments were difficult at best and took their sweet time. Hence, powered by a new delivery model, the rise of best of breed offerings.



The new incarnation of a suite that we see right now combines the best of the two worlds. It combines best of breed and best of integration as it is based upon data and process integration via a common platform rather than code integration. Via the ecosystem it is possible for customers to get applications that support nearly all needs. The enhancement capabilities can then be used to deliver highly specific solutions.

All big vendors have used their strength to build and acquire an application suite that bases upon this platform thought: Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, and SAP. Unsurprisingly, they are all claiming customer experience reasons for doing so.

This rationale is right, because a customer experience that bases on consistent engagements can only be delivered if all systems operate on the same data. Silos make it virtually impossible to stay consistent.

Consequently the Big Four are engaged in a clash of Titans, which you can read about in a four piece series on this site (1, 2, 3, 4).

But the Big Four are not the only companies that are engaged in a strategy of building a business software suite based upon a single, consistent platform.

There is a small number of more SMB focused vendors that follow the same philosophy. Some of them also have the potential to disrupt the big ones on their turf by becoming good enough and offering their services at a lower price point.

Sounds familiar? This is exactly the way Salesforce started its foray into leading the CRM pack.

One of these vendors is Freshworks, a company that was originally formed as Freshdesk. It has its origins in the customer service and ITSM areas and has increased its portfolio considerably, since. The rebranding to Freshworks was a natural consequence of this scope enhancement. Freshworks has increased its functional footprint by a combination of acquisitions and own development, very similar to the big players. Similar to them the company now works on harmonizing their platform. They are doing this by first focusing on a master customer record that can be used across their products and solutions.

Another one is Zoho, which quietly evolved into a company that offers a wide range of solutions. Zoho has recently made some announcements that are pretty remarkable as they virtually mirror the messaging of the Big Four. Zoho’s sequence of announcements of November 15, 2018 covers four areas:

  • Zia, the virtual digital assistant
  • Process automation
  • Omni Channel
  • Unified analytics

All of these announcements revolve around the topic of adding high value because of the underlying platform that provides a consistent set of data.

In contrast to many other companies Zoho did not rely on acquisitions so far but implemented the vast majority of the code base itself. As a result they now probably have one of the most coherent application platforms that are offered, especially when it comes to SMB offerings.



Of course, neither of these companies is offering the same breadth and width of functionality that the big ones are offering, yet. The configuration and customizing abilities are limited.

However, if you as an SMB are looking into fast implementations of functionality in specific areas that can integrate into other enterprise software packages, it is worthwhile having a look at them. Make sure that the existing functionality fits your needs and validate that their roadmaps fit your anticipated desires – or can be made fit your needs.

There is always a tradeoff to be done. Looking at Freshworks or Zoho might just be the right one.

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