Fight of the Century – IT Style: Single-Vendor versus Best of Breed


Since the beginning, people have spent numerous hours debating the relative advantages of the tools we use on a daily basis: sword vs. bow and arrow, fork vs. spoon, credit vs. debit, and for those of you who are children of the ‘80s, Beta vs. VHS. These debates always result in one conclusion – rarely is there a one-size-fits-all answer, except maybe in the case of Ali and Frazier, but that’s a different debate perhaps for a different article. My point is that similar debates are happening across the business IT world. 

When you need software to help efficiently run your business, is it better to invest in a best of breed product or a single-vendor solution? Software companies, journalists and consultants have gone to great lengths to argue each side. However, in the end, it’s a decision organizations themselves have to make. The question is, which one is right for you?

In the red corner, the Single-Vendor Solution

Vendors selling their single-source solutions often cite much lower, up front, operational costs as the primary value proposition for going with their solution. Typically, a single-source solution is positioned as easier to buy, tailor and customize to your unique industry needs. You can also expect to hold one single vendor accountable for any issues that arise with your software. This eliminates the “finger-pointing” to one vendor over another. Using a single vendor gives you a one-stop-shop for your solution fixes and upgrades. 

However, is it really a one-stop-shop? Home-builders for example, require a degree of industry specificity that typically requires a high degree of customization to meet the needs of the user. Because single-vendor solutions are less industry specific and developed as more of a generic, horizontal offering, upgrading those customizations comes at a cost. In order to balance the cost and help eliminate all or part of your system being “down” during customization, many single-source vendors are reaching out to third parties to help with upgrades and industry specific add-ons to ease the burden of customization. This puts a gray area in the definition of “single-source.” In other words, although your product has a single vendor’s logo on your log-in screen, many things within the solution still come from very different vendors. Ultimately, you will be paying for third party assistance with your upgrades and customization and that investment may reduce or eliminate your expected cost savings of going to a single vendor solution. 

There is value in looking at single-vendor solutions if your data and process requirements depend upon limited industry specifics or simple configurations to the data model or user experience. The more specific your requirements are to your industry or operating model, the more important the analysis phase of your project will become. It is critical to understand the true impact of customizations to the “out of the box” product. 

And in the blue corner, the Best of Breed Solution

In the opposite corner of the ring, best of breed solutions can be leveraged to meet the specific needs of one or a small group of functional areas. The value proposition of best of breed is clear, the gap between out of the box capabilities and the industry requirements is small.  Covering this gap is easier and will lead to faster time to value for an organization. The softer value of working with a best of breed solution is the thought leadership and depth of knowledge that the vendor can bring to your business, your processes and ultimately, your technology solution. 

The traditional concern regarding best of breed solutions is integration. Companies today face a challenge with data silos that have sprung up as the complexity of the business has evolved. Leveraging the collective dataset from all systems provides the strategic insight that leaders are seeking to manage the business. Historically, integration has been expensive and requires skills not always found in an IT organization. Over recent years, there has been an impressive evolution of both on premise and cloud-based integration technology that aggressively reduces the complexity, cost and skills required to integrate both data and business processes. 

Best of breed vendors offer a high degree of industry verticalization, which will reduce the gap to fit, but will require a thoughtful analysis of integration strategy to cut down or eliminate the expansion of data silos and to manage the longer term investments that are required.

The Winner Is …

While you can compare single-source products with a best of breed solution until you’re blue in the face, there may actually never be a clear winner. Or maybe there is? It all comes down to making the best investment fit for your organization. To determine which option you can bet will knock out the other, ask yourself these questions: 

•    Am I more worried about up-front cost or long-term investment? 
•    How easy is it to integrate a solution to my existing IT ecosystem? 
•    What will be my total cost of maintenance with regard to upgrades?
•    What is the skillset of my organization? What people investments do I need to make?

To a certain extent, this debate over the two concludes with one basic point: just like forks and spoons each offer a tactical advantage when they’re used in the right situation, single-source and best of breed solutions offer that same tactical advantage – used in the right situation, by the right set of skilled users. No solution weighs more than the other and there is no single way for you to succeed or fail. Instead, it’s important to use a combination of applications that makes sense for your particular organization.  


About Matt Keenan and Aptean:
Matt Keenan, vice president of CRM product management at Aptean, looking at a set of strategies for building life-long relationships with customers. Keenan is a 20+ year veteran with deep experience in all facets of CRM including sales, service, marketing and social CRM. He has worked with companies of all sizes across a wide range of industries to evaluate, develop and implement customer-centric initiatives, including sales, channel, and customer service process design as well as technology platform evaluation and implementation.  

Aptean’s CRM, Complaint Management, ERP and Supply Chain software applications enable nearly 5,000 customers from a variety of industries to satisfy their customers, operate more efficiently and stay at the forefront of their industry. Aptean is where software WORKS. For more information, visit

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