Should Your Startup Use an All-In-One Software Or Separate Systems

One of the most challenging things when starting up or being in the growth stages of your business is selecting the right software.

These days businesses are spoiled for choice with the huge number of products that we can use to run our business. One of the choices that you may be facing is whether you should be using an all-in-one system that covers all (or almost all) of your businesses needs or whether you should be selecting individual systems/services for each business function.

In this article I will cover the pros and cons of each of these approaches and provide some insights into which approach works best for your company size.

If you are looking for guidance on the right ways to choose software please check out my previous article here (includes a free evaluation spreadsheet template).

One other thing to note is that when I am talking about business functions here I mean the different aspects of your business such as Marketing, Financial Tracking, Sales, Delivery/Operations, etc.

All-in-One Systems

An All-in-One system provides much of the functionality that you need for your business the is capable of dealing with more than one function. Some good examples of complete all-in-one systems out there are Zoho and Odoo.

Although the number of systems that truly provide “all” aspects of your business are rare there are a number of products and services out there that provide what I will call “some-in-one”. That is “some” of your business processes will be covered by a single software solution. CRMs like AgileCRM that provides CRM, Marketing and Project Management, for example. The Pros and Cons also apply to these kinds of systems.

Pros

  • Simple to get started as they include all in one system
  • Can be very cost effective compared with multiple systems

Cons

  • Forced to use their way of doing things for your entire business
  • If the system is unavailable your entire business may stop
  • Can be more complex than needed as it includes functionality your business does not need
  • May not grow with your business

Separate Systems

This is pretty self-explanatory. You are using separate systems for the different functions within your business. The challenge with this is that you will need to somehow integrate these systems so that you have a complete picture of your business. Online integration platforms like Zapier can make this integration task simpler however, for more complex integration you will most likely need something custom made.

Pros

  • Can choose specific systems that match your business processes
  • Does not tie your entire business to one vendor

Cons

  • Maintaining separate accounts in each system
  • Integrating data between systems can be a challenge
  • Duplicated data risks being out of sync
  • Costs can quickly grow for subscription or license fees as you add each service
  • Your IT architecture can quickly become complex running the risk that it will be unmanageable in the future

A crossbreed

It’s worth also pointing out that there are a number of systems available that are technically an all-in-one delivered by extending a core product with plugins. A great example of this is WordPress. There are many plugins that provide similar functionality allowing you to choose the one that is right for you and your business. This means that you have pros and cons of both although the integration requirements are much simpler if you go down this route.

So which one is best?

Obviously, this is a question that I can’t answer for you here since you need to evaluate your requirements against the available systems (check out more on this here).  There are a few general guidelines that I think can be applied:

Smaller businesses may prefer the all-in-one approach, as it allows you to see everything within one system.  This approach allows you to get started without having to worry about how to integrate/synchronise data between a number of systems. If you or  your staff typically perform multiple business functions then you may be more comfortable using a single system.

If you plan for growth as part of your business plan (you do have one right?) then you may be setting yourself up for a more expensive migration to more suitable platforms in the future just to save complexity and dollars now.

As businesses get larger it is more likely that each function will be performed by separate people. This means that it is likely that you will have one or more staff working in each business function and they will predominantly be using a single system.  This greatly reduces the cost of context switching (between applications).

In Summary

When selecting software for your startup or existing business you have many options.  These options can be loosely divided into two categories; all-in-one type systems and systems that have a single focus.  In general, I think the all-in-one approach is good for small businesses with fairly standard business processes. Larger businesses and those with unique business processes are going to be better served by choosing separate systems that meet their requirements.

As always you need to evaluate your requirements against any systems before making your decisions.  If you need assistance selecting software for your business I can provide advice and guidance specific for your business.

For more information contact me here.

Posted in Strategy.

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