The Fallacy of the Benefits of an Integrated Suite

What This Article Covers

  • The Presentation of the Integrated Suite Concept
  • Virtually All Applications (Integrated Suite or Point Solutions) Are “Integrated”
  • After the Acquisition of a Vendor, How is The Integration Story “So Much Better?”
  • Integrated Suites Tend to be More Expensive in Multiple Dimensions (i.e., Have a Higher TCO)
  • Integration Suites as a Way to Reduce Competition?
  • Integration is Not a Primary Driver of TCO
  • How Consulting Companies Undermine any Intelligent Software Selection Process for Their Own Ends
  • The Most Important Feature in the Software Correlated to Implementation Success
  • An Often Repeated Evidence-Free Assertion

Introduction

One of the largest trends in enterprise software was ERP vendors acquiring their way into non-ERP applications. (In the case of Oracle, it was Oracle moving into applications overall, purchasing both ERP and non-ERP systems).

A major reason why software vendors have gone on acquisition sprees is due to the resonance of the concept of the single integrated suite.

In this article, we will review the philosophy that integrated suites and gets into more detail than is typically done when this term is used.

The Presentation of the Integrated Suite Philosophy

The presentation of the integrated suite philosophy is that integration between applications that are not from the same vendor is complicated. The concept is that while it may be acceptable to give up functionality and fit between the application and the business requirements, it is highly desirable to purchase as much software as possible from a single vendor into order to receive integration benefits.

There are significant holes with this philosophy even though it is quite prevalent.

Virtually All Applications (Integrated Suite or Point Solutions) Are “Integrated”

Here is the standard type of completely integrated marketing hyperbole offered by integrated suite vendors.

“The SAP NetWeaver technology platform is a comprehensive integration and application platform that helps reduce your total cost of ownership (TCO).”

This sentence is inaccurate. NetWeaver never did anything to improve integration on projects and was more marketing construct than an actual product as is covered in the article Did Netweaver Ever Actually Exist?

But this concept was effectively used to push customers to buy from SAP, and customers found out that Netweaver did nothing to reduce integration overhead. In fact, the argument before Netweaver offered by SAP was that all of their applications were already integrated with each other. If that was the case then why was Netweaver necessary.

Unless the application sits on the same database as another application, all applications require adapters. The only applications that meet this standard are the various modules within an ERP system. For example..

  • The sales module of an ERP system sits on the same database as the finance module. In that case, there is no integration.
  • But this is not true of any non-ERP application.

Sometimes the adapters are internal to a vendor, and sometimes the adapters are between applications from different vendors.

But, because in many cases the software that is sold as part of an “integrated suite” is from a variety of different vendors, the adapters that you receive from integrated suites are often nothing more than the adapter the acquired application already had when they were part of the pre-acquisition independent vendor.

Furthermore, the idea that being acquired by a larger software vendor better or more complete adapters to be created is also an oversimplification. There are many stories of integration still being a problem years after an acquisition. In the case of the SAP acquisition of Ariba, Steve Lucas of SAP made a strange statement that we covered in the article The Problems with Diginomica on Steve Lucas on HANA, Oracle, IBM, AWS, and Microsoft.

Steve Lucas made the following statement to Diginomica, that, of course, Diginomica allowed to pass without comment.

We are integrating that (one of that being Ariba) with our logistics applications, our inventory applications.)

There is a three year lag between the acquisition of Ariba and this comment by Steve Lucas. How many years are necessary for SAP to integrate an acquisition to SAP’s ERP system?

After the Acquisition of a Vendor, How is The Integration Story “So Much Better?”

Applications tend to have adapters to the major ERP systems both to ease the sales process and to speed the integration process. Therefore it is a great oversimplification to give an integrated suite so much preference over applications that are from different vendors. In fact, if a vendor is acquired and already had an existing adapter to the company that acquired it, what changed from the integration perspective due to the acquisition?

We cover this topic specifically in the book Enterprise Software TCO: Calculating and Using Total Cost of Ownership For Decision Making.

…while many companies like SAP and Oracle lead executives to believe that they will incur minimal integration overhead if they purchase one of their non-ERP applications to connect to their ERP applications, this is untrue. All of SAP and Oracle’s applications sit on different hardware, and while they may have adapters, they are not actually integrated – they have different databases (the term “integrated” is colloquially used to mean any connected systems, but most accurately it means that the systems sit on the same database – when systems have adapters between them, they are not actually technically integrated). The quality and ease of use of these adapters is often not actually superior to the adapters that are written to connect best of breed applications to the ERP system.

Integrated Suites Tend to be More Expensive in Multiple Dimensions (i.e., Have a Higher TCO)

Integrated suite vendor tends to charge more than point solutions. For example, when an application is acquired by IBM, one of the immediate effects is for the price of that application to significantly rise. But the change in the price of the application license is only one part of the increased TCO.

Integrated suite is also more often implemented by large consulting companies, which increases their TCO. This is the truest of the largest integrated suites and consulting companies will normally only build consulting specialties around these largest vendors. As soon as the application is implemented by a consulting company an consulting company builds a practice around the software, the costs very significantly increase. Consulting companies not only charge more on a daily basis than the consultants of software vendors (not in all cases, but in most cases) but they also lengthen the implementation duration.

And they do this often against the wishes of the software vendor. This extra cost easily overwhelms any increased integration costs that come from integrating point solutions to the existing systems at the account.

Integration Suites as a Way to Reduce Competition?

It is no secret that software vendors do not acquire other vendors to increase the competition that they face. Our research into the growth of ERP vendors other associated applications, after ERP vendors told customers that ERP systems were the only applications they would ever need, is covered in our book The Real Story Behind ERP: Separating Fact from Fiction.

…this has meant that the business does not get the software it needs. Software selection based on software suites does not emphasize each application (emphasis added), but instead emphasizes the suite. As explained in this quote from Christopher Koch of CIO Magazine, software suites themselves are mechanisms that reduce the competition a vendor must face.

“Indeed, integration standards interfere with ERP vendors’ traditional ways of gaining and keeping customers and market share. Before the Web came along, your integration strategy was simple: Buy as many pre integrated applications from a single vendor as possible. That worked for you, and it worked extremely well for the vendor; integrated application suites fetched a high price and required long- term maintenance and support contracts that promised a steady, predictable stream of revenue from customers.”—ABCs of ERP

How well is that working for companies that bought ERP systems? Did companies find that they were able to eliminate all legacy systems and not use any non-ERP systems?

Integration is Not a Primary Driver of TCO

There is no one else that has performed as much work into TCO as Brightwork Research & Analysis. Our free TCO calculators are available for anyone to use. The poor state of TCO research was uncovered as part of our investigation into TCO, that is the literature review we performed before creating our calculators and writing the only book on the TCO of enterprise software systems. We were not able to find any reliable studies on TCO. Most TCO calculations, for instance, those we analyzed from Salesforce, are simply created by the marketing department of the software vendor. And “shockingly,” in each case we examined the TCO estimation released by the vendor showed them as having the lowest TCO in 100% of the occasions.

One of the conclusions from our research is that integration is an overestimated cost by both the largest software vendors and the consulting companies that align with integrated suites for their own financial reasons. Through recommending an integrated suite, consulting companies can drive their “client” into the highest TCO outcomes.

It should also be remembered that large consulting companies do not want their customers to know what the TCO of different solutions is. This is because consulting companies like Deloitte or Accenture are significant drivers of the higher TCOs. In our calculators, the highest TCOs routinely came from the purchase of large software suites implemented by the largest consulting companies. In fact, the major consulting companies are a primary reason why the ROI on so many application implementations are actually negative as is covered in How Enterprise Software Was Parasitized by Consulting Firms.

In fact, an extra benefit of using smaller vendors and more point solutions is that companies like Deloitte and Accenture don’t have resources trained and available in those applications, and the applications are typically implemented by the vendor’s consultants.

How Consulting Companies Undermine any Intelligent Software Selection Process for Their Ends

Consulting companies like to create “uni-crop” software environments which allow them to have large numbers of consultants in a relatively smaller number of applications. Consulting companies overstate their software coverage and resource specialization to their clients on a routine basis. They will often hire independent consultants off of the market (as the client could have done) and then present the independent consultant as if they are a full-time employee, and that represent furthermore, the consulting company was somehow responsible for developing their skills. The consulting firms demand a significant margin on the resources even if they just met the resource a week ago.

Our risk research into software risk and which calls into question the quality and objectivity of the information provided by large IT consulting companies is covered in the book Rethinking Enterprise Software Risk. The following quotation is from this book.

Is there a way to test this hypothesis?

The question we had was whether clients that followed the advice of major consulting companies would receive the benefit of lower risk implementations. As it turns out, there is a way to test this question. The applications recommended by the major consulting companies are rated for risk (among other characteristics such as maintainability, usability, functionality and implement-ability) in the Software Decisions MUFI Rating & Risk evaluation. We compared the MUFI Rating & Risk evaluation for applications in ten software categories and compared them to software that the major consulting companies typically recommend.

The research shows that the applications recommended by the major consulting companies always have a high or the highest TCO (total cost of owner-ship) in the respective software category, along with the highest risk. The reason is simple: not a single major consulting company that provides IT services is a fiduciary. This means Accenture, IBM, Deloitte, etc., have no legal responsibility to place their client’s interests ahead of their own. And the internal incentives laid out within each consulting company, where sales is far more esteemed than implementing the software successfully, or even implementing the best software (there is no measure for this whatsoever) means that the customer’s interests are a distant second to the profit-maximizing interest of the consulting company. It is in the financial self-interest of these major consulting companies to recommend software for which they have trained resources ready to bill—therefore it is this software that is recommended.

The Most Important Feature in the Software Correlated to Implementation Success

This has lead us to conclude that the most important feature of the success of an implementation is the match between the business requirements and the selected software. Not whether the software comes from a single vendor. There can be cases where more than one application purchased from one vendor meets the business requirements of a customer, but each application should be able to win in each area on its own merits without having to rely upon the “crutch” of being part of a suite of applications offered by one vendor.

The degree of match is a major determinant of the overall risk of the implementation. That is pushing for an integrated solution at the expense the fit with business requirements will result in a higher risk that the project either never goes live or that after it goes live the value it provides to the company will be minimal.

An Often Repeated Evidence-Free Assertion

The integrated suite argument, most prominently from ERP vendors is at its essence and the evidence-free assertion that is put forward by integrated suite vendors and reinforced by consulting companies who have a financial interest in repeating and companies like Gartner. They receive the most vendor income from the largest vendors and who slant their Magic Quadrants in the direction of the largest vendors.

To provide evidence would require a little work, and the outcome would go in the opposite direction of the assertion. In fact, we have provided more evidence against the integrated suite argument in this one article you are reading than has been provided to support the integrated suite argument.

This says a lot about how little assumptions are verified in the IT space.

IT buyers have proven extremely susceptible to misleading simplistic platitudes that are promulgated not because they are true but because they fit the financial incentives of those that promote these concepts. The most prominent IT analysts companies have proven useless in educating IT buyers on these inaccuracies because, in part, they are paid by the largest software vendors and consulting companies to perform well in their various published ratings. 

Conclusion

Those vendors that offer integrated suites universally attempt to make their customers overestimate the degree to which their applications are integrated to one another, and push their prospects to overestimate the impact on TCO of application integration. Furthermore, they also minimize the adapters that the point solution providers have created for the major ERP systems.

Therefore the largest software vendors, the consulting companies, and the IT analysts (by in large) push the integrated suite concept as improving implementation outcomes, not because it is true, but because they find it to be profit maximizing.

References

TCO Book

TCO3

Enterprise Software TCO: Calculating and Using Total Cost of Ownership for Decision Making

Getting to the Detail of TCO

One aspect of making a software purchasing decision is to compare the Total Cost of Ownership, or TCO, of the applications under consideration: what will the software cost you over its lifespan? But most companies don’t understand what dollar amounts to include in the TCO analysis or where to source these figures, or, if using TCO studies produced by consulting and IT analyst firms, how the TCO amounts were calculated and how to compare TCO across applications.

The Mechanics of TCO

Not only will this book help you appreciate the mechanics of TCO, but you will also gain insight as to the importance of TCO and understand how to strip away the biases and outside influences to make a real TCO comparison between applications.
By reading this book you will:
  • Understand why you need to look at TCO and not just ROI when making your purchasing decision.
  • Discover how an application, which at first glance may seem inexpensive when compared to its competition, could end up being more costly in the long run.
  • Gain an in-depth understanding of the cost, categories to include in an accurate and complete TCO analysis.
  • Learn why ERP systems are not a significant investment, based on their TCO.
  • Find out how to recognize and avoid superficial, incomplete or incorrect TCO analyses that could negatively impact your software purchase decision.
  • Appreciate the importance and cost-effectiveness of a TCO audit.
  • Learn how SCM Focus can provide you with unbiased and well-researched TCO analyses to assist you in your software selection.
Chapters
  • Chapter 1:  Introduction
  • Chapter 2:  The Basics of TCO
  • Chapter 3:  The State of Enterprise TCO
  • Chapter 4:  ERP: The Multi-Billion Dollar TCO Analysis Failure
  • Chapter 5:  The TCO Method Used by Software Decisions
  • Chapter 6:  Using TCO for Better Decision Making

Enterprise Software Risk

See our free project risk estimators that are available per application. The provide a method of risk analysis that is not available from other sources.

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