A growing number of ERP systems play off the trope of the all-star squad, the dream team. Dubbed ‘best-of-breed,’ these solutions articulate a seductive logic. If a system is merely the sum of its parts, then wouldn’t creating a better system simply mean combining better modules?
Here as elsewhere, the hallowed annals of sports cinema have something to teach us.
From their explosive debut at the 1954 world championship until 1980, the Soviet hockey team dominated the sport, winning most Olympic gold medals and world titles. The United States struggled for years to defeat them, fielding their most talented professional players in ‘all-star’ teams. Every roster fell apart in the face of Soviet precision, yielding defeat after humiliating defeat on the world stage.
Desperate for a victory, the United States hired University of Minnesota coach Herb Brooks. In Miracle, Disney’s film adaptation of what became known as the Miracle on Ice, Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) explains his strategy
Herb: All-star teams fail because they rely solely on the individual’s talent. The Soviets win because they take that talent and use it inside a system that’s designed for the betterment of the team. My goal is to beat ‘em at their own game.
Brooks veered away from the NHL and turned to colleges, emphasizing compatibility and conditioning over player talent. On February 22, 1980, Brooks’ team of amateurs stunned the world by defeating the USSR 4-3. The United States went on to win gold against Finland.
Best-of-breed systems and all-star teams exhibit analogous weaknesses. Both operate in arenas where a failure of teamwork equals disaster. In hockey and business, incompatible parts can (and will) ruin the whole, no matter how world-class the individual performances.
Yet the all-star model suits ERP even less than team sports. For in a best-of-breed system, each module bears the imprint of a separate developer, a distinct team of coders and engineers, sometimes even a different spoken language. Unlike hockey players, these modules need specialized coding in order to coexist, let alone communicate or coordinate.
The resulting seams create a host of challenges for best-of-breed clients. In order to upgrade any one module, businesses must pay for coding and integrations, often in areas unrelated to the offending component. Even when module vendors try to upgrade proactively, the system’s balkanized design hinders them.
Necessary integrations can impact platforms as well as software. In many cases, ‘best-of-breed’ systems also qualify as ‘hybrid,’ with some modules in the public cloud, some in a private cloud, and others anchored on-premise. This raises security concerns; as quantitative data1 demonstrate, systems distributed between platforms draw more attacks than any other ERP model, on-premise included.
Best-of-breed solutions also age poorly. Add impractical upgrades to fees per module, and obsolescence proceeds at a rapid clip.
So what should prospective ERP clients search for?
Unified: Buyers should choose the solution that performs best as a whole, not in a highlight reel: a solution designed as a unity, not as a mélange of parts. Of course, unified systems should integrate where necessary. But they should integrate smoothly, and they should never rely on integrated modules for their core functions. In most cases, the cloud offers the ideal platform for unified systems.
Subscription-based: The longevity of a solution depends on the frequency and quality of its upgrades. A licensing model forces clients to pay for software and customization, not only once, but with each update. Pricing by subscription allows cloud vendors to upgrade multiple times per year at no cost to the client.
Configurable: Many solutions demand that clients cover expensive, code-breaking implementation, certainly at first, and then with every update. Multi-tenant cloud providers integrate new clients as virtual tenants, keeping install costs, upgrade fees, and obsolescence to an absolute minimum.
Herb Brooks understood that his players would never win without speed, stamina and strategy. But he also grasped what no American hockey coach had before him: that if the United States played as a confederation of individuals, they would lose before they reached the ice.
All-star solutions can be tempting. But you should look elsewhere for your organization’s miracle.
1. Alert Logic, 2017 Cloud Security Report