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How technology decisions are like all-star games

Jul 14, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

* The “best of breed” debate as a sports analogy

An age-old question, discussion, point of contention or argument (depending on where you stand on the issue) is whether you should choose “best of breed” products from several vendors or a homogenous suite from a single vendor.

Both viewpoints have their defenders, and both have their detractors. For now, let’s eliminate from the discussion those whose buying philosophy is ABM – Anybody But Microsoft. We don’t need (or want) a political discussion, though; instead we’ll try to focus on technology or business considerations. We’ll do it by taking a couple of examples from the sports world.

Back when the National Hockey League consisted of only six teams, the annual All-Star game pitted the previous year’s championship team against a group of all-stars from the other five teams. Similarly, the National Football League used to kick off its season by pitting the previous season’s champion against a team of college all-star players. If we consider the all-star teams as “best of breed” and the championship team as the single-vendor suite, we should be able to draw some analogies.

The championship teams were made up of players who knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The coaching staff could implement a style of play that emphasized the strengths and minimized the weaknesses. The strategy could be have developed over time, since in those days there was little movement of players between different teams. The championship teams did have weaknesses, but for the most part only teams that could overcome or compensate for the weaknesses ever became champions. Suite vendors do the same thing by emphasizing their products’ strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.

The all-star teams, on the other hand, rarely had more than a week or so to practice together. This necessitated a relatively simple, and generic, style of play with easily learned terminology. Compensating for that, though, were the innate abilities of the all-star players who could recognize opportunities and problems and quickly react to either take advantage of the opportunity or overcome the problem. Best-of-breed vendors can also respond quickly to changes in standards or new innovations in the marketplace while partnering with other best-of-breed vendors to provide complete coverage of the technology “field.”

So how did the all-star teams fare against the champions, and can this provide a clue to which works better – best of breed or single-vendor solutions?

Well, in the last 14 games played under this setup in the hockey all-star match, the champions won seven times and the all-stars won seven times. In the last 14 football games played under this arrangement, the record was champions 13, all-stars 1.

Those are vastly different results. Does it mean there is no valid conclusion we can draw? Not at all. In fact there is a very good lesson to be learned, using the results from both all-star series, which can be applied to choosing software. But we have to look beyond the surface difference of “all-stars” and “champions” to two things – who the players really are and how the games are played. We’ll look at that in the next issue.