arm wrestling match
Forget best of breed vs. all in one: digital experience platform user's main concern is with integration PHOTO: SteFou!

Forrester researchers say the debate between “best-of-breed versus native functionality” in digital experience software is over.

Native solutions won.

Analysts at the Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy reported in their “Digital Experience Platform Trends, 2017” (fee required) research that native solutions are the “logical answer.'"

Not so fast, say some practitioners. More on that later.

Forrester released the report concurrently with its third Digital Experience Platforms Wave, which analyzed vendor offerings in the digital experience space. It defines DX as "software to manage, deliver and optimize digital experiences consistently across every phase of the customer life cycle."

DX Software Integration = Bedrock 

The best of breed versus all-in-one debate is nothing new. Neither is the desire for seamless integrations.

Mark Grannan, who co-authored the Forrester DX reports with fellow analyst Ted Schadler, told CMSWire he's heard DX decision makers and practitioners consistently ask for the same thing of their DX investments over the last three years: Ease of integration. 

And native solutions are “widening their lead over best-of-breed.”

In another Forrester DX report released in April  — “State of Digital Experience Delivery 2017” — researchers found 73 percent of DX decision makers favored easy integration characteristics, compared with 45 percent for best-of-breed status. 

"Products joined by mergers and acquisitions frustrate customers because they have to force-fit the product integrations," Forrester noted in last week's Trends report. "Native solutions that have been live for 18 months will win over pure best-of-breeds for existing clients."

If vendors embrace easy integration across their platforms, the suite approach “takes off for them,” Grannan told CMSWire.

“We’ve been saying the last couple of years that integration is actually redefining what it means to be best-of-breed,” Grannan added. “And additionally, the vendors themselves are embracing easy integrations so they can in theory smooth the path to cross-sell and upsell so that it’s faster to adopt a second or third solution within their family of offerings.”

DX Technology Selection Not ‘Black and White’

Though Forrester's Trends report calls the suite/native versus best-of-breed debate “over,” Grannan admitted that while the trends are “very much true,” they aren’t “necessarily black and white.”

Technology selection naturally depends on the business case, he said, adding highly-regulated, streamlined organizations that apply six sigma and lean philosophies “are probably likely to go all in with a single vendor."

Others, meanwhile, that are more focused on innovation and decentralized operations are probably going to be better off with an API-first approach

"Both are growing, absolutely,” Grannan said. 

One executive whose digital agency works with DX software providers such as Acquia, Adobe, Marketo and Sitecore said a hybrid approach is common right now.

Chris Chodnicki, executive director of strategic partnerships at Baltimore-based digital agency R2i, said he finds most organizations "adopt a hybrid approach when they make investments across DXP pillars such as CMS, analytics, marketing automation, commerce and CRM." 

DX Platform End Users Speak Their Truths

Ultimately, technology is all about the users. Not the vendors. Not the analysts. 

We caught up with some digital experience practitioners to see how they use their toolsets.

DX Platform Too Expensive

Laura Hughes headshot
Laura Hughes

One B2B marketing practitioner agreed integrations are important but said best-of-breed works for her team.

Laura Hughes, a B2B marketer based in London, said her team entertained an all-in-one platform but found it too expensive and instead went with a CRM integrated with a marketing automation provider.

“We looked for products with an excellent integration, and actually apart from having two logins you wouldn't realize you were in two systems because they link so seamlessly,” Hughes said.

In the FinTech landscape, where Hughes works, most vendors are going more toward an integrations approach rather than trying to do absolutely everything their customers require, Hughes noted. 

Vendors’ new business models are, she said, “more and more built upon the idea of powerful core functionality with integrations with other software/apps for ‘premium’ services.”

End-to-End Visibility

Chris Grant
Chris Grant

Chris Grant, a B2B marketer based in Oxford, England, said he favors the platform approach and leverages one central MarTech vendor "because it makes everything seamless and gives end-to-end visibility on the data." 

"Most of the companies that produce platforms are constantly developing and evolving," Grant said.

The provider he cited just announced a new module for customer success, which, Grant added, "closes the loop nicely."

Best-of-Breed Rules

Jan Lambæk Hansen
Jan Lambæk Hansen

Jan Lambæk Hansen, a B2B marketer based in Copenhagen, said it often comes down to money.

Not everyone, he said, can afford or wants to invest in native solutions before they have had some hands-on experience. 

“I currently enjoy a number of best-of-breed tools that are integrated with each other,” Lambæk Hansen said. “It all depends on need and size of the budget.”

One Suite Not Always Justifiable

Headshot of Joe Longtin
Joe Longtin

Joe Longtin, an Eagan, Minn.-based B2B marketing manager, said his team uses a unique hybrid technology approach. 

"It's not always justifiable to migrate everyone onto a marketing automation/CRM suite," he said. "I've not seen it done yet. This is largely due to organic customization, acquisition of companies with better systems and balancing the impulse for sexy capital investments against operational reality."

The better business case?

Write connectors, he said, and exhaust the cost effectiveness of legacy applications before leaping into a "comprehensive" solution, Longtin added. 

"As a user of HubSpot, Act-On, Marketo, SFDC, Siebel, ACT, Zoho and others," he said, "the odds are someone has written the integration or it can be done with thoughtful requirements writing."

Don’t forget, Longtin said: true best-of-breed vendors also have good APIs, product managers who keep on top of common integrations and talented support engineers.