When purchasing software for your business, the question that frequently comes up is whether to purchase a fully-integrated (FI) system or best-of-breed (BB) applications.

It’s a serious question that bears due consideration before purchasing software. The decision used to be between buy or build a system.  But the proliferation of Cloud applications muddies the water a bit. This article attempts to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of FI and BB with the goal of helping you decide which approach is best for your company.

Let’s start with a definition. For purposes of this article, Fully-Integrated (FI) is a single system that is designed to meet the needs of disparate functional groups in a company. Fully-Integrated is purchased from a single vendor. The vendor maintains, supports, and upgrades the system under a service contract.  Best-of-Breed (BB) is a group of applications, each of which is designed to meet the specific needs of same or similar functional groups. BB applications are market-leading solutions in their respective markets. They are purchased from multiple vendors and maintained under separate service contracts.


Fully-integrated systems come with a central database for all functional groups. Data is accessed from this single location for analysis. Budgeting is simpler – it’s one price for everything. Training is fairly standardized in terms of user experience. There are network and technology benefits with fully-integrated systems that are preferred by IT departments. Support is provided by a single vendor that has access to all modules.

Best-of-Breed is a selection of the best software applications for each functional group. The application features are specific to the needs of the group and contain fewer irrelevant features that are not universally desirable. The vendors are knowledgeable and expert in their respective fields. As technology advances and new functionality is developed, you can add new or replacement software to enhance or upgrade the application(s).


Fully-integrated modules have features that are limited or less than optimal for some functional groups. The vendor is in full control of enhancing or updating the system with additional features. Updates are complicated by the cross-functional nature of the software code, i.e., changes made to any single data field can have positive and/or negative effects across the system. There is complete dependence on one vendor for all your needs.

Best-of-Breed applications require working with and coordinating multiple vendors. Troubleshooting and identifying the root cause of a problem is difficult if vendors don’t work together with a common goal of fixing your problem. There is more management of application updates and interfaces. Integrating the applications to work together adds cost to the project. Aggregating data for analysis reporting adds cost to the overall project.

Balancing Act

Stakeholder goals differ. The IT department likes FI – it’s easier to manage technologically. The users like BB – everyone wants the best available features for their group. The company wants value, and there are overriding corporate considerations. It’s a balancing act that requires in-depth analysis and planning.

Company size is a consideration. Smaller companies have fewer organizational units to satisfy. Large companies have an overarching “greater good” to consider. Go-live for FI takes many months, even a year or more for a large system. Go-live for a BB application takes as little as a month, even a week if it’s a cloud application, plus integration time.

Cloud application vendors are now offering more pre-built integrations to popular third-party software at no cost. Digital cloud storage is available and reasonably priced for data warehousing. Integration platforms (iPaaS) mitigate the application silo effect.

User role is another important consideration. When the user is someone in the field entering initial data into the system, they often don’t interact with other modules. In this situation, adding a best-of-breed data entry solution to a fully-integrated front-end is proven to result in greater data accuracy and more dependable information throughout the organization. Remember the adage – Garbage in, Garbage out!

The keys to success—no matter the choice—are managing behavior change and recruiting advocates early in the process.

For more information or assistance choosing software, contact Tim Pakes. Tim has been in the software and business services arena for over 15 years.  You can reach him at 866-773-7962 or tpakes@presynct.com