Since the dawn of software there have been two seemingly divergent approaches to implementation:
- An enterprise approach in which all elements of an organizations strategy are based on the same technological platform and undertaken at the same time.
- A departmental approach in which different functional areas are allowed to use the tools of their choosing and deployed as needed.
Proponents of the first approach say it offers a more cohesive methodology that facilitates better decision-making and saves money over the long term, while backers of the second say it yields a rapid return on investment and allows users to select tools that best suit their needs.
But when it comes to implementing customer communications management (CCM) solutions, does it really have to be an “either / or” decision?
While each approach presents its own merits and potential drawbacks, in the real world, being flexible is often the best strategy because it’s clear that no solution is “one-size-fits-all”. While an enterprise-wide deployment strategy may bring loads of power and economies from having everything in one suite and not having to integrate multiple separate applications to the table, it also brings the baggage of complexity, integration, time of implementation and administration – baggage that may be too much to deal with for many operational or tactical problems that are confined to one or more departments.
On the other hand, departmental deployments (such as claims or customer service) provides a robust solution to address one specific need that are easier to implement, tend to be much more feature-rich relative to enterprise suite offerings but on the flip-side, have the added headaches of integration.
Given these pros and cons, the decision to implement enterprise-wide or departmentally is always tough. To complicate things even more, the functional gaps between “best-of-breed” departmental offerings and enterprise suites have started to narrow tilting the scales towards enterprise. At the same time, the recent trend towards Software as a Service (SaaS) is also helping lower upfront costs of purchasing new systems and modern technologies such as .Net, J2EE, and XML all make it easier for insurers to integrate different systems quickly – both of which seem to tilt the scales in favor of departmental deployments. Today’s software solution buyers are now faced with making a more difficult and complicated decision, but one that is still just as important.
If you finding yourself deciding between implementing an enterprise-wide solution or “best-of-breed” departmental one with the ability to scale, consider the following questions:
- Are your needs really that specialized in every area or department? A surprising number of organizations tend to think that “our business is entirely unique.” While many times there are areas within your business that are truly “unique”, there are also areas that are not. Also there are vendors that have been addressing unique needs long enough that many of those “unique” needs have been addressed.
- Do you really need all your systems integrated? A lot of organizations start out the research process for a new solution assuming that integration is essential in every single case, when in fact, many business functions are more disparate than they think.
- Does your existing core solution vendor offer (or even come close to offering) what you need and is it truly integrated? Although many core systems vendors have built out functionality over time and promise breadth within their suite, most fall short of delivering the real business requirements that you may need, especially everywhere in your organization. Also if your vendor acquired the application or built it on a different code base from that of its core, it might not be “truly” integrated. With open standards and today’s modern technologies, you really shouldn’t have to sacrifice functionality for integration.
- Do you have the IT resources necessary to perform a complete integration? While integrations are more easily performed with today’s modern technologies, they still require considerable IT expertise to implement and manage – not to mention a commitment from end users to actually use the solution.
- Is it better to reap smaller, short term returns from a “best-of-breed” departmental approach or hold out for greater, long term business improvements from implementing an enterprise suite? As the saying goes, “time is money”. But when it comes to technology decisions, time is also risk. Organizations need to weigh the time it takes to realize a return on their investment – the longer the wait the greater the challenges including technological changes, “scope creep” and evolving business processes.
- What is the long-term viability of the vendor? While some vendors are financially and strategically viable, others may be too young and/or have too narrow of a focus to survive in a competitive industry fueled by acquisitions.
- Will the enterprise vendor give you such a significant price discount that it offsets the sacrifice in functionality? Organizations who are looking to add a module to an existing core administration system can usually expect to pay much less than implementing a standalone departmental application. However, many times a standalone departmental application costs about the same and delivers considerably more value.
- Does the new system warrant a different deployment model, like SaaS? If so, implementing a “best-of-breed” departmental system via SaaS might make more sense, especially if the business requirements include collaboration, mobility and/or remote access.
Researching, evaluating and selecting new software applications are notoriously tough endeavors. They don’t teach this stuff in college and very few professionals make a career out of buying software. But those who consider the questions above should be well on their way to making the right, up-front decision for their customer communications solution.
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