You are going to create a new website for your organization.
You want to have some pretty great functionality – a wiki, forums, an internal search engine, a blog. Maybe some e-commerce too. You want a CMS so you can update content yourself. But you also want different people to manage different sections, and editors should be limited in what they can edit. And, obviously, the website’s design should be consistent throughout.
You get proposals from two different agencies.
Agency #1 suggests building the entire site on their preferred CMS. This CMS has add-ons for all of the desired functionality, and the agency makes the seemingly valid point that it’s easiest to maintain a single system.
Agency #2 also suggests using their preferred CMS. However, they want to implement the wiki separately. The forums too. Maybe even the blog. They say they can tie all of these different systems together with an external search tool, single sign-on, and a theme system that sits on top of it all to provide a consistent look-and-feel. They argue this will give the site’s end users the best possible experience, since each part of the overall system would be best-of-breed.
Which way should you go?
When to Use All-in-One
You Need “Good Enough”
The monolithic approach works better when requirements are consolidated or generic. As an example, Drupal has a ridiculous number of plug-ins available to extend a basic Drupal site. Want a blog? Forums? Even e-commerce? You can absolutely configure Drupal to provide that functionality.
Is it as good as dedicated blog or forum software? Of course not. But that might not matter.
If you just need a simple blog or a basic forum on your CMS-based website, this can be a reasonable approach.
You Don’t Care (Much) About Upgrading
One negative about relying too heavily on plug-ins is that when the core product is updated, the plug-ins may not be. That can lock you into the current version of your core system, or force you to replace the plug-ins at potentially large expense. If your website has a short shelf-life, this may not matter to you.
You Want To Save Short Term Money
It’s usually less expensive to build an all-in-one site that relies on plug-ins than to spend the time tying disparate systems together. It may also be less expensive to maintain (that is, at least, until you want to upgrade.)
Then again, in the long run, there are a number of reasons the all-in-one approach can actually be more expensive (see below.)
Let’s say you’re a startup and you only have a small amount of money available today. In this case, “time to market” trumps “best-of-breed.” Plus, if you are successful early on, there will be plenty of money to make improvements later. Even if you need to rebuild from scratch at some point in the future, that’s fine. But — at first — anything that gets your website up quickly is the priority.
When Does Best-of-Breed Make More Sense?
You Want Each Feature to Be Best-of-Breed
An e-commerce plug-in for a CMS is just not going to be as robust or functional as a dedicated e-commerce platform. Likewise, many e-commerce platforms now provide basic content management functionality, but they are just nowhere near as strong as a dedicated CMS.
If you want each component of your overall system to be the best it can be, don’t try to build everything into one platform.
“Our open source platform did not work well for a subset of more specific media applications. The downside of open source is that the functionality you get is dependent on where the developer community decides to spend its time. [Blogger’s note: This is actually true for all software, whether it’s open source or not.] In our case, this meant that Plone wasn’t able to support our desired features in areas like blogs, photo galleries and video. You can solve this problem by integrating industry standard media solutions with your open source CMS. We were able to work with our developers to integrate best-of-breed providers like Brightcove (for video and photo galleries) and WordPress (for blogs) to create a blended solution.”
In other words, if you want the best blogging system available today, consider WordPress. If you want the best online CRM system, try Salesforce.com. Don’t expect that the CMS plug-ins which provide blogging or CRM functionality are going to be nearly as strong as tools designed specifically for those purposes.
You Want the Best End-User Experience
All-in-one software benefits the developers because it’s usually less work to install plug-ins than to integrate systems. But, this benefit is at the expense of the end users, who won’t receive the best possible user experience. Conversely, best-of-breed integrations benefit the end users’ experience at the expense of the developers, who may need to do more work in order to ensure the users’ experience is seamless.
You Want to Compartmentalize Maintenance
It’s nice to be able to perform a maintenance release on just one component of your overall technology system without needing to worry overly much about the other parts of the system. With a monolithic plug-in approach, introducing a new plug-in (or changing an existing one) could have consequences across your entire site. Add a buggy feature and your entire website could go down.
The ability to compartmentalize maintenance can provide significant long term cost savings.
You’re Building For the Long Run
The best-of-breed of approach is significantly more flexible and changeable over time. You can upgrade individual components without impacting other functions. Plus, as new technologies emerge they can be integrated into the overall solution. Meanwhile, the all-in-one approach makes this more difficult.
Usually, it’s also easier to scale a best-of-breed system. Each component can be placed on its own server (or group of servers). If you determine that your forum requires more horsepower, you can scale up just that component. However, if your forum is a plug-in, you have to scale up the entire core system.
What To Do?
There’s no single correct answer here. It depends entirely on your circumstances. Many (most?) websites are appropriate for an all-in-one approach, while others may be benefited from going best-of-breed.
- Think about the short and long-term goals of the site
- Consider your financial situation
- Understand how you will be handling ongoing updates & site maintenance
From this starting point you can make an informed decision on the best approach for you.
Not sure which approach is best for your business? Would you like to discuss the possibilities? Give us a call.