The debate that isn’t: best of breed software versus all in one

Ray D'Cruz
Performance Leader

Firms going through the software selection process will often pause at some point and ask the question: do we want a best-of-breed or all-in-one solution?

It’s an important question, but it overlooks a third option – a hybrid solution.

What are my options?

Before we get to the hybrid solution, let’s quickly recap the definitions of ‘best-of-breed’ and ‘all-in-one’.

  • A best-of-breed solution refers to the leading applications, systems, or software in a niche or category.  Firms that take a best-of-breed (or “best-in-breed technology”) approach to building their technology stack select tools that serve specific purposes.
  • An all-in-one solution refers to a suite of integrated and related products from the one vendor. Firms that take an all-in-one approach are willing to address problems in a more generic manner, confident the stack will get the job done.

An alternative approach

A hybrid solution is a technology stack comprised of best-of-breed solutions and a base all-in-one solution. The rationale for this approach is logical:

  1. Best-of-breed solutions solve specific or strategic problems that cannot be addressed by the general capability of all-in-one solutions. In the value equation (value=benefit/cost) benefit is the key producer of value.
  2. All-in-one solutions solve simple, functional problems that don’t require nuance or sophistication. In the value equation, cost is the key producer of value.
  3. Interoperability make harmonisation possible  – the ability of different systems to exchange information – means hybrid solutions can still deliver an all-in-one experience. Most best-of-breed providers now offer an API or bespoke approach to integration. All-in-one providers may too, though some exhibit a self-interested reluctance to integrate with others. In our experience, when pressed by clients, all-in-one providers usually come to the interoperability party.

The allure of an all-in-one solution nevertheless persist for many. Gartner explains the problem with this approach:

Although enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors offer numerous enterprise applications and claim that their integrated system is a superior solution, all modules in an ERP system are rarely best-of-breed.

Think of it this way: a primary care doctor is fine for a common ailment, but if the problem is serious, you’ll need a specialist whose expertise runs deep. But here a hybrid solution is optimal too: primary care doctors and specialists work together to give you the best overall outcome.

Which way forward?

Addressing this from our viewpoint as a HR solution provider, firms need to think through what’s simple and operational to determine the composition of their hybrid approach:

  • An operational test might be whether the system is going to handle simple tasks, requiring binary responses. Here, data accuracy and process efficiency is important. The HRIS, onboarding or payroll systems may fit into this category.
  • A strategic test might be whether the system is going to handle complex tasks, requiring flexibility and nuance. Here the user experience is critical, as his or her engagement in the system will determine its success. Performance and feedback or learning management systems may fit into this category.

From our field of performance and feedback, two examples come to mind:

1.     Moving to a real-time feedback culture is an ambition for many professional firms. It sounds great, but it’s not easy. But a smart, fit for purpose system will be able to adapt to the structure, culture and cadence of the individual firm (or groups) to find the right approach. It will work in concert with formal review process.

2.     Partner contribution management software must be highly flexible. It must fit hand in glove with the partnership agreement, governance and decision making process and the operations of the Remuneration Committee. To this end, we’ve observed a phenomenon when it comes to partners, where medium and large sized firms eschew generalist systems in favour of bespoke solutions. 

So, when you pause to ask the question: do we want a best-of-breed or all-in-one solution, remember there’s a middle way: a hybrid solution that addresses strategic needs, cost concerns and user experience.  

About Performance Leader

Performance Leader helps your firm build a culture that engages, develops and rewards your partners and employees. Our market leading software is used by some of the world's leading professional firms. To learn more, talk to us or book a demo with our consulting & software team.

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