Unraveling the Suite Versus Point Solution Debate

Experts explain why selecting a technology solution isn't about features, but rather the customer journey.

Selecting a technology solution is no longer as simple as signing a long-term contract with just a handful of vendors. As customer expectations rise, businesses must keep up, which places companies locked into legacy software solutions at a steep disadvantage. In fact, 45 percent of CMOs and senior digital marketing executives indicated in a recent survey conducted by business networking group Digital Ascendant that it was not at all important to obtain all their marketing technology from a single vendor, compared to 9 percent who said it was very important.

CMOs are not the only executives looking for flexible, integrated solutions-this trend is playing out across nearly all parts of an organization as more companies examine their stance on all-in-one suites versus the multi-vendor approach. Due to a number of factors such as the rise of integration-friendly solutions, the idea of a single vendor holding all the cards "has been lost to some degree," observes Martin Longo, CTO at Revana, a TeleTech Holdings Company, (1to1 Media is also a subsidiary of TeleTech). "Today, when buyers look at a new product it has to integrate with what they already have so it's increasingly becoming about being able to plug-and-play well with others."

Indeed, vendors may have "some very strong solutions, but there's no single company that has the best of breed solution in everything," says Omar Akhtar, an analyst and managing editor at Altimeter, a Prophet Company. "Everyone has to play in the sandbox."

Integration Is Key
Easter Seals assists more than one million children and adults with disabilities like autism with a network of more than 550 service sites across the U.S. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act allows more people to receive coverage for treatment offered by organizations like Easter Seals. Therefore, the organization needed a technology solution that was flexible and easy to scale as its needs grew.

Easter Seals selected Salesforce as its partner several years ago. As a charitable organization, Easter Seals receives a discount on Salesforce's solutions, but that isn't the reason why the organization chose this vendor, explains Robert Van Tuyl, chief innovation officer at Easter Seals.

"Because the nature of this service line [under the ACA] is fairly new we're still figuring out what are the best ways to deliver the service and we needed an agile way of changing workflows, creating custom solutions, etc., and those changes are ongoing," Van Tuyl says. "We wanted a platform that wasn't specific to behavioral healthcare but was more like a workflow engine with base functionalities that we could leverage."

Easter Seals is connecting its internal electronic health records (EHR) system with the Salesforce Health Cloud, to distribute information more easily to other databases. "Being able to integrate the Health Cloud with the EHR system is key," Van Tuyl notes. "Our EHR system, Athena Health, is a cloud-based ERP system but we still need to do a lot of pre-processing work before a claim goes to one of the claims systems. We can manage claims more efficiently because we do a lot of upfront cleanup in Salesforce."

Additionally, Easter Seals is using the App Cloud to build custom mobile applications, such as an app that practitioners can use when conducting in-home visits, as well as the Salesforce Community Cloud to support its network of practitioners, and the Marketing Cloud to communicate with donors.

At the same time, an integrated suite solution like Salesforce's doesn't necessarily work for everyone, Van Tuyl adds. "It depends on what the business life cycle is, if the company already has well-established processes and systems of record with only a few different types of data then a one-stop point solution might work," he says. "It's whatever you need to create the best customer relationship."

The rise of integrated solutions is also playing out in the contact center space where traditional business models are at risk of being disrupted, observes Keith Dawson, principal analyst at Ovum. "There used to be entire segments of companies whose main job was to tie all these custom applications like call routing, workforce optimization software, and analytics together into a unified screen for the agent," Dawson says. "But as integration becomes the default rather than the exception, the need for a middleman is quickly reduced."

Indeed, the advent of cloud-based APIs and other services that enable organizations to connect different applications together are "magic words" to businesses because "it implies standardization," Dawson notes. The move to connect and integrate capabilities across platforms is leading to the growth of "open platforms" where vendors offer tools that can connect with systems already in place. But not all point solution sectors or ecosystems are created equal, Dawson warns. Some players are very new, such as tech companies like Facebook, which is dipping its toes in the contact center world.

While Facebook Messenger's chat bots offer limited practicality today, they represent an interesting challenge to customer service vendors. "I don't think of Facebook as a contact center solution provider but all of a sudden, Facebook is a channel that more and more companies are exploring," Dawson notes. "And that's interesting because it means a company's other vendors like their CRM vendor and WFO vendor will have to figure out how to integrate with that Facebook channel and explain how it fits into their system."

The Human Component
Despite the benefits that integrated solutions can offer, they are only powerful if a company is set up to effectively leverage those capabilities. Making sure that the organization has the necessary systems and processes in place to share data and create a unified view of the customer is critical, says Branden Jenkins, general manager of global retail at NetSuite.

"What I encourage clients to look at is whether their houses are in order," Jenkins says. "Are they building on a solid foundation of data? Instead of just cobbling together solutions, a company should have a roadmap of the type of customer experiences they want to provide and how the technology ties into it."

Akhtar agrees. "Oftentimes the technology is way ahead of the people using it," he says. "The problem is when people haven't figured out how to share data and software across the organization." One issue is the belief that companies "need to break down silos" before there can be collaboration, Akhtar adds. It's impractical to lump marketing, IT, sales, and customer service teams into one team. A better way is to think of it as "creating windows between silos so that each team can see what the other group is doing while continuing to work on what they specialize in," Akhtar says. "The goal should be to create a common view of customers and agree on what the customers need and what would make a great experience for them."