What do we really mean when we talk about business software systems? Even a fairly streamlined business needs to be able to do word processing, purchasing, billing and marketing, the list can go on… So several vendors have attempted to cover off all the major management software areas in a single, comprehensive software package. However, let’s be honest – is it really likely that a single management software suite can offer the strengths of the most widely-used targeted, single-task software solutions?
Attendance tracking software, for instance, may be great for the HR department, but can’t integrate into most project management systems. But despite its integration capabilities, comprehensive management software packages like ManageMore can’t give users the kind of upgrade options, and doesn’t have the support resources, that a company like Adobe can offer.
One major advantage of single-vendor systems is that they make it easier for staff to learn different portions of the software, since it should look and feel the same as what they’ve already been trained on. And often, single-vendor solutions can be customized to meet your needs, since they tend to be modular. But be careful: while training may be easier, it is likely going to be more expensive. The proprietary nature of these systems means that there are far fewer manuals out there about, say, the project-management module in the health-care industry version of ManageMore, than there are about Microsoft Excel!
It may even out for your organization, however: because single-task business software suites don’t often integrate well into other company’s software, your employees could actually be spending more time moving information from one place to another than you might like. Spending the money on a single business management software solution makes analysis, collaboration and sharing easier, since it can record and integrate data from each work-flow phase.
However, all-in-ones who customize by industry don’t necessarily offer the same user or competition base that drives companies to create add-ons and invest in incremental improvements. And can a single-solution vendor really invest the same amount of time and effort into the accounting portion of a huge suite as Quicken is able to put into their single, specialized product?
Then there’s cost. All-in-ones aren’t cheap. But when you actually put together all of the one-off medium-sized business solutions you need to buy, the licensing costs can approach the tens of thousands of dollars for even a relatively modest license package for your business – on top of a modest payroll, dealing with multiple vendors for purchasing, inventory control, marketing, and management represents a huge chunk of your operating costs.
One thing to watch out for is data compatibility. Once you commit to a single-solution business management software vendor, you’re pretty much irrevocably committed unless you hire a team of engineers to get your data back out for you, in a format that’s compatible with other software platforms.
So what now? Look very carefully at your business needs – if most of your data and operator work goes into one or two major software offerings like Microsoft Office or Crystal Reports, you’re probably better off sticking with them. If you have staff that spends as much time sending out invoices as they do analyzing product sales patterns, it’s worth giving an all-in-one a try.
Just be sure that it uses industry-standard compatible formats: all information should be exportable off-the-shelf into and out of Quicken, Microsoft Excel or Access, etc.