Convergence? Or a Quasi Suite

For awhile now I’ve been writing about suite vs best of breed. My thoughts have admittedly wavered a little bit, on the one hand I am a believer in the web being the platform, but on the other I’ve got extensive experience with the nightmare that is tying apps together. Suites, with their ability to avoid much of this headache, are a nice solution.

Dennis Howlett had a great post giving his perspective on the move from an accounting-centric to a CRM-centric approach towards enterprise software – saying that the various SaaS solutions need to mature rapidly. He gives some examples – NetSuite who, he says, only really got to real momentum after they added CRM to their accounting offering.

Dennis’ key takeaway is that:

In the ‘old’ days, accounting ruled the roost, followed by CRM etc. In the ‘new’ world, CRM has taken the lead. If you believe that to be true then it is only a small step to realizing that development needs to step up.

While the marketplace would seem to prove Dennis’ point, I wonder if that’s a false positive that has been created through the fact that it was CRM that first moved to a cloud/connected model. As such they have a headstart on the accounting world. It’s about reach within organizations. As Dennis pointed out:

Salesforce is a $1.6 billion business but its average customer size is around 23 users

It would be fascinating to see some research into the comparative reach within organizations of CRM and ERP.

Anyway, today Jacob Morgan posted asking whether or not we’re going to see vendor convergence in the Enterprise 2.0 space, while his particular focus was the rapidly burgeoning number of offerings in the space, I think part of what he was talking about is relevant to the suite vs best of breed debate.

It is interesting to take a look at BrightPearl. I’ve posted about them recently and they’re doing seemingly amazing things on very few employees and the smell of an oily rag. They’ve built a pretty persuasive small to mid level ERP system that includes significantly more functionality than many other SaaS accounting players.

So how have they done it? By embarking upon what I’m going to call a quasi-suite approach. BrightPearl have a fully integrated email marketing function – that they’ve not built. Rather they’ve created their own deep integration with MailChimp, a third party email marketing application.

Now some may argue that this is a similar approach to that encouraged by The Small Business Web, but I see it somewhat differently. While it’s true that part of the benefit of SaaS applications is that they facilitate integration through web services, this is still a difficult task and lends to issues around user interface, experience and work flow. Integrations such as those that BrightPearl have created with MaiChimp result in the best of both worlds – the deep integration that a suite brings, with the agility and flexibility of a SaaS app.

1 Comment
  • Hey Ben
    Indeed we are doing our best to provide users with a single-point solution, but it’s a massive challenge. We’re not going to build our own mail client, we integrate with Google (and soon Exchange). We’re not going to build our own email marketing engine and deal with all the engineering behind an ESP; we integrate with Mailchimp (and soon also Constant Contact).

    We considered discontinuing our Servicedesk module and integrating with something like ZenDesk but you know what, people want One System.

    All our integrations allow a user to be in the single application all day long, manage one set of contacts in one financial and sales database.

    We considered phasing out our website module. Magento, Shopify, Squarespace – these guys all have a brilliant offering but sexy and configurable as they are, they still require another vendor, another login, some way to plug them all together … and it soon starts to look less attractive.

    Time and time again we hear “at last, I’ve found a single solution”. We believe that there will be more businesses like ours appearing over the next few years but there’s no doubt that it’s a massive technical challenge to build one that works really well. It’s an even bigger challenge to manage client support and expectations for a system that claims to do everything your business needs. “Everything” is a big word …

    Fortunately we are now able to move beyond the realms of oily rags and really put some weight behind our proposition. Watch this space!

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