close up of vintage Maskatron action figure
PHOTO: JD Hancock

To state the obvious, when we talk about digital experience (DX), we're talking about a lot of moving parts. DX covers a multitude of disciplines within an organization, as well as the people, processes and tools that support them. 

Some vendors claim to have all the answers: a single digital experience platform that will sit across these functions. Others advocate a more precision-guided approach, integrating a set of specialist tools.

As someone who’s approached software procurement from almost every direction — as a consultant, vendor, industry analyst and clients side as a market technology buyer — I’ve been known to have some opinions on the topic. Today I want to focus on a key decision often made early in the process: do you choose a vendor that claims to do it all or take a “best of breed” approach and craft a bespoke solution for your business?

Best of Breed DX Stack (a.k.a. 'Frankenstack') 

“Frankenstack” is probably one of my favorite industry expressions right now. It describes the monster that a well-meaning, but poorly executed “best of breed” approach can create. Who hasn’t considered picking up a blazing torch, a pitchfork and storming IT when the such a beast is let loose into the business?

The risk of creating such a beast seems high with the market for CX-related technologies reaching such a bewildering state (cue obligatory mention of Scott Brinker and his Marketing Technology Supergraphic).

But let's be clear: it’s no longer IT’s fault. Which digital marketer hasn’t circumvented the process and put a sexy new little cloud-based, $9.99 a month thingamabob on their credit card, hoping that it would somehow solve a tactical issue? 

Little did they know they were creating a sleeping baby monster in the process. What's that? You want to get that data into Salesforce now? You want those assets reused in an email? Good luck.

A Digital Experience Platform (a.k.a. 'The Bionic Man')

Confronted with such a scene, who wouldn't be scared into the arms (or wooed by the charms) of a vendor that, on the surface, appears to suggest a panacea, a complete solution, a digital experience platform? Not Frankenstein’s monster, rather The Bionic Man!

A couple of issues with The Bionic Man: first, he was SIX MILLION dollars (a little over Dr Frankenstein’s budget). Second, when you look closely at the way some of those bionic bits of your DXP vendor are stitched together, they may owe more to Frankenstein’s lab, than the Office of Scientific Intelligence.

Some of those purporting to be single platforms are, in fact, closer to the good Dr. Frankenstein’s approach as he hunted around for new warm parts to stitch onto his creation. In other words, they aren’t really that integrated.

Any Technology Decision Is a Compromise

One of the phrases I frequently hear when organizations decide to consolidate with a single vendor is a “single throat to choke.” One contract, one support system to deal with, etc. 

To them I would caution: when you are “all-in” with a single vendor, the stakes are high.

This decision is always a compromise. Nobody starts with a greenfield, at least a little integration with the existing systems is always required. And while no one vendor will provide everything you need for your digital experience platform, minimizing the number of technologies, skills, contracts, interfaces, databases, silos (etc.) is entirely a good thing. 

3 Tips to Help Your Best of Breed vs. Platform Decision

Choosing between going all in with one vendor or creating your own stack is a tough decision. Here are three pieces of advice:

1. Spend Time Establishing Your Requirements in Advance

The first is what I always come back to on the subject of software selection: before you enter any procurement process, you have to do a lot of hard work to really understand the organization’s needs. 

A platform will not solve whatever ails your digital experience. Spend the time to understand the customers' view of the experience you are providing, what’s happening with your people and process, how technology will help and identifying what features and functions you need.

The very best procurement processes I have seen started months before a vendor appeared on the scene. These businesses had a defined and defendable set of requirements, each owned by someone in the business, before anyone got their head turned by the latest bionic technology.

A client who knows what they really want is a delight for any vendor. A firm set of requirements and rigourous selection process gets a partnership off to a great start. No Jedi mind trick can influence those who don’t know what they want and a selection unfounded in business needs quickly turns into a lottery. 

2. Approach any Tech Selection with an Eye Towards Implementation and Integration

I suspect many of the differences between Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and the Bionic Man came down to not only the technology available, but the skills of the scientists. Technology is rarely the sole cause of a failed DX project, but rather how it was implemented and integrated into the business (and I mean the people and process, as well as the other systems).

3. Start Small

Rather than the big bang, consider starting small, demonstrating success and building from there. A thorough review of your requirements will reveal some low hanging fruit, those squeaky wheels which if solved could considerably enhance your ability to execute and engage with the consumer. 

Maybe for you, starting there, building a tightly integrated best of breed is the right choice for your organization.

Hopefully you found these tips helpful. Although I’m no longer in the client advisory business, I am sure any consultant worth their salt would steer you away from building a monster, for a price tag slightly under six million dollars.