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Beware of “All in One” Software – The “All” will be “Small”

Billy Marshall
August 11, 2015

The demand for “all in one” software in the service contracting space must be high, because I see lots of vendors claiming to be such.  These vendors proclaim to prospective customers that a single integrated system from a single vendor that performs every software function (customer service, accounting, time sheets, fleet management, e-commerce and so on) is the only successful software path possible.  

all in one isn't always practical

Most are VERY SMALL, with fewer than 25 employees.  Some are bigger with as many as 50 employees, but still TINY in the sense of what it takes to deliver a comprehensive software platform that provides “all in one” functionality.  It is literally impossible in the modern, connected world of high frequency innovation for such a small vendor to effectively deliver even half of the software features that a service contractor should expect to run in their business.

Consider NetSuite.  A publicly traded company with over $600M in annual revenue and more than 1,000 software engineers on the payroll.  They claim to be an “all in one,” and you would like to believe that maybe, given their large size, they can pull it off.  Now, take a look at the NetSuite partner page of applications that provide functionality that NetSuite cannot.  Over 320 applications listed across 32 pages of partner apps.  Huh?  Wonder why such a large and successful company that markets itself as “all in one” (hence the “suite” name) needs 320 partner applications?

The answer is simple.  No software company can stand alone to provide all your needs.  Not even one as big and powerful as NetSuite.  Not even Apple, the most valuable company on the planet. Here is a screenshot of my phone.  Only three of the apps on that screen are provided by Apple. They all work nicely with the Apple technology, but Apple does not deliver an “all in one” solution.

iPhone screen

Why is there not one simple button on my phone that says “All in One” for the weather, traffic, mapping directions, playing music, watching videos, transferring bank balances, trading stocks, monitoring my exercise routine?  Of course, the answer is obvious.  These are all very different apps that require a different approach to data and the user interface.  In the same way that accounting is a VERY DIFFERENT application than customer service, with a different data set, different users of the data, and different user interface requirements.

What is the lesson in these observations about NetSuite and Apple?  Both market themselves as being the “superior integrated system” that all consumers seem to desperately want.  Yet both of them develop massive partner ecosystems to deliver the applications that they cannot.  

Service contractors should seek software vendors that are the best in class for their particular solution: Customer service applications from field service management companies, accounting platforms, contracts management, fleet management, customer resource management (CRM), email marketing, and human resources to name a few. The initial setup of those integrated systems will make changing individual systems much easier in the future than a forklift of an “all in one” that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The lesson is that “all in one” is simply a marketing term to grab your attention because that is what you seem to be seeking, but it is misleading because it is not possible to have “all” from “one.”  The lesson is that you should ignore the marketing, and instead observe the reality.

If a small company offers “all in one,” remember it is just a marketing pitch to get your attention.  If NetSuite and Apple cannot do it, the small firm courting your business certainly cannot.  Not even close.  But it is OK provided that they behave in a manner similar to Apple and NetSuite and embrace partner applications that work seamlessly alongside their application.  

I cannot fault a company for good marketing, but you can certainly fault them for locking you into a trap where many of your needs are not met because the “all” is very “small” and no partner applications are available because they actually believe their marketing hype.  Ask about partners and application programming interfaces.  If you get a blank stare, caveat emptor!  The “all’ will be “small.”

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