System Solutions: A Best-of-Breed Strategy
A critical issue you’re going to have to address is the type of integration you need among systems. Tightly integrated solutions will require more programming than “loosely coupled” systems. If near-real-time connections are feasible using message-oriented middleware, they’re easier and more flexible to implement than real-time integration through application programming interfaces.
Indeed, there’s an entire niche of integration or middleware applications, but these typically are designed for companies using name-brand CRM and enterprise resource planning systems rather than the systems that catalog or direct marketing companies need.
There also are a growing number of Web-based systems that rely on Web Services integration and XML for data exchange. These tend to be newer, less mature applications, but they do offer advantages in being essentially more transparent from a platform and support perspective. (These are sometimes available only from Application Service Providers on a pay-per-use basis, although some can be purchased and run on your own servers.) However, since there’s as much diversity in server, database and programming platforms for the Web as there is for client/server or legacy platforms, Web-based systems are hardly a panacea.
Finally, you need a bona fide IT staff to manage a best-of-breed systems mix. Your complex of systems will need continuous attention. Think toddlers who either never grow up or whose rivalry takes years to subside. Are you ready for the challenges, as well as the rewards, of a big family?
Ernie Schell is president of Marketing Systems Analysis, Southampton, PA, and author of “The Guide to Catalog Management Software.” You can reach him at (215) 396-0660 or by e-mail: email@example.com.
Methods and Procedures
If you’re going to implement best- of-breed solutions, expect to undergo some soul-searching regarding your business methods.
Without giving up the tricks of the trade that give you a competitive advantage, consider doing some things differently if the methods or procedures of the applications you select can’t support everything you currently do. As noted, a cluster of modified systems is difficult to support.