Sunday, March 27, 2011

3 ways you can integrate an enterprise software solution

Now that you've decided you need a software to manage your business information and processes, what are your options?
Well, you have 3 options:
  1. Buying an integrated solution
  2. Creating a personnalized solution
  3. Buying and creating a hybrid solution

Buying an Integrated Solution

This solution is the most common approach for the simple reason that it is the most accessible and seems like the easiest to put in place.
The pros are:

  • Easy Installation : Generally, these solutions are easy to install or accessible directly online.
  • Stability: Since it is an integrated solution, the different modules have likely been tested with one another and are optimized as such.
  • Less expensive: This is not always the case but since there is no custom development or programming needed, these applications are often less expensive.

The cons are:

  • Generic : For a solution to be available for a large number of businesses, it needs to be made satisfy the greater majority.  The problem of course is that if you don't fall in the same line of processes, you will have to adapt yourself to the software solution (rather than the opposite).
  • Too many or too little functionnalities: Once again, since the solution is made to satisfy the greater majority, the solution will have a certain amount of functionnalities. When there are too many, it can get confusing and complexify the use and training for the software. On the other hand, if there are too little, the software is simply not pertinent to your needs.
  • Longevity : Will the solution hold up on a long term basis?  Can it grow with your business?  Often, a static software solution will need to be changed once the needs of the business change or if it grows out of the required functionnalities of the solution.

Creating a Personnalized Solution

This solution consists of creating (or having create) a personalized software solution entirely based on your particular needs.
The pros are :

  • Personnalized : Obviously, with such a solution all your needs and specifics are taken in account.
  • Durable : Since the solution has been created for you, it can be modified or added upon in order to evolve with your business evolution.  It can be updated to last you a very long time.

The cons are :

  • More expensive : Generally this kind of solution will cost you more on a short term basis because it needs go be programmed according to your needs (on a longer term it might be more profitable though)
  • Longer to put in place : Since it needs to be created, it won't be available immediately.  Delays can vary but usually you have to wait a few months before being able to use it for your live operations.

Buying and creating a hybrid solution

A hybrid solution consists of taking one or many integrated solutions and to link them with some custom modules that are built for your needs.  For example, one could purchase an accounting solution as well as a CRM.  Although these solutions don't necessarily come from the same vendor, it can be possible to create a centralized module that will synchronize the redundant information (such as the client information) between the two.

I won't go through the list of pros and cons since it is a clear compromise between the 2 previous solutions.  If no integrated solutions match your needs and that you don't have the budget for a personalized solution, the hybrid solution can be the perfect compromise.

Which solution should you choose? My answer is quite annoying: it depends! In reality, every business is different from the next: size, budget, needs, etc.

What I will suggest though is that you take the time to choose carefully.  If you don not choose the right solution at first, you will certainly regret because you'll lose a great deal of time, effort and money. It is not an obvious choice to make but take in consideration your current and future plans and needs and get some advice from professionnals.

Also, remember that the software should go hand in hand with your local processes and not the other way around.  You should not modify your processes to adapt to a software solution (unless you believe that it is an optimization).

So if you come across an integrated solution that perfectly matches your current and future needs, get it! If not, I suggest that you look into getting a personalized or hybrid solution.  After all, your processes are probably what gives your business its edge. The question is: can you afford to change them?

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