What's best for my business? The Suite or the Stack?
It’s a question that’s dogged the technology world for decades. The crux of this debate revolves on whether it’s better to enshrine your marketing technology in the walled-garden of a single Tech Giant or entrust it to the wild west of smaller, more agile Challenger Tech companies.
This choice dictates how your digital strategy will evolve. Or in other words, how you’ll bridge your application landscape from being a single basic app into a multi-channel, cohesive user experience.
Both approaches have their pros and cons and I have experience on both sides of the fence. Prior to joining champions of everything Stack at Jahia, I spent two and a half years drinking the Suite kool-aid at Oracle. At Oracle, I was sold the complete suite vision, where every part of a business technology portfolio — from hardware to software and everything in between — was to be provisioned by Big Red. I saw first hand the breadth of feature functionality, sure, but also how hard it is to get such an eclectic technology offering to work cohesively. Now at Jahia, I get to experience building from a solid foundation of content, data and application interoperability; and work with a large collection of smaller, cutting edge technologies to form an unbeatable technology stack.
Drawing upon these experiences, I’m going to try explain why I believe the stack approach is truly the best choice for a modern Marketing Leader.
Angle of a Stack
Simply put, adopting the stack approach means defining the key areas of your business — be it e-commerce, sales, comms, etc. — and partnering with vendors who produce the best in class tools specific to each of these pillars.
It’s hard to argue with this angle when you look at the current landscape of tech. With the rapid pace of change in how we all consume digital, it pays to work with partners that are able to quickly adapt their products in order to meet new habits & expectations.
With a Tech Giant, you’ll have to trust that they’ll overcome their massive bureaucracy by throwing huge sums of money at servicing a new development, one which might not necessarily be their main focus — their primary motivation more than likely being to tick a new feature functionality box off in an RFP.
Moreover, Challenger Tech companies recognise that user experience needs to be at the forefront. Challenger Tech understands that the most important investment is in product usability; That’s why Slack is now a verb and why three-year-olds can use iPads. By stacking these kinds of technologies together, you’ll be reaping the rewards from the get-go — both in hours saved from lack of training required, as well as increased productivity due to your employees actually enjoying the software they work with.
The Stack Connect
Sounds pretty great right? Well, the catch — in theory — is that because these partners are separate entities, in order to create a cohesive digital platform, you’ll have to put in some serious leg work if you want to get these tools to talk to each other. This doesn’t really stack up (pun intended) in my book, and that comes down to the mythical nomads living behind the technical curtain: the Developers.
Developers, by nature, keep up-to-date with the latest digital trends & cutting edge frameworks, and they’re all singing the same tune: API-first. Software these days needs to be built with integration and interoperability from the ground up — it’s table stake.
The Developer’s close-cousin, the IT exec, doesn’t want to be responsible for having to train entire teams on the nuances of using complex, feature saturated and laboriously outdated IT software. They want to be the data model masters, building and controlling the connections between these applications, their data lakes and reporting tools — as well as developing their own in-house software when necessary. They should be able to trust that Marketing/Sales/etc. have a tool that’s so easy to use, IT won’t have to step in and hold their hand.
Finally, let’s not forget the emergence of technologies like the Digital Experience Platform (DXP), which can be the beating heart of your Stack. DXPs combine content management, customer data tracking, personalization, testing, and a dizzying amount of out-of-box integrations to the most popular business applications on the market (Jahia has 400+). They allow you to evolve at a pace that suits your growth rate, providing a foundation to build upon which you can quickly and painlessly incorporate new applications onto.
Turn up the Suite
There are of course benefits in going the suite route. A full technology portfolio provisioned by a single, well-established vendor means that all aspects of your suite will fundamentally have some level of communication with each other, technical or otherwise. Even if it’s just two Product Managers meeting over a morning coffee, there will inevitably be some strategic oversight into ensuring that your products can communicate in an effective way.
You can benefit from economies of scale with a trusted, well funded Tech Giant . They’re better poised to weather a financial storm, should the tech sector experience volatility. They’ll have an expansive partner network with the resources to offer your business a variety of implementation routes, support packages, and established processes — with a guaranteed level of reliability, services-wise. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, but to employ another industry saying:
“Nobody’s ever been fired for buying <insert your favourite Tech Giant here>”
Not so Suite
Despite the benefits afforded by a Tech Giant application suite, one size does not necessarily fit all. A suite is only as good as its weakest product and being locked into a single, faceless Tech Giant means that if they stop supporting something that’s key to your business, good luck changing their minds — lest you forget most of these companies have more lawyers than your business has employees; you can expect some difficult conversations on the horizon.
It’s also worth noting the value of building authentic relationships through personal interaction with your digital partners. In the data age, it’s easy to boil down this value to a semi-meaningless commodity, where efficiency is king and purchases should just be transactions. To give this point credence, I’m going to lean on an anecdotal experience that was passed on to me by a senior purchaser and their dealings with a Tech Giant. This Tech Giant shall remain nameless, but they sold “a business suite”.
This Purchaser was at the top of the purchasing chain for their company and acted as the ultimate buyer — they put pen to paper on the largest deal in North America for this Tech Giant that year. A few weeks later, after the Tech Giant’s fiscal year came to a close, the Sales Rep calls up the Purchaser and asks (and I’m paraphrasing) “So… what’s next?”
They hadn’t even started implementing and the wolves were back howling at the door, hungry for more. There’s always one more application, one more process to be improved — “and seeing as you’ve bought so much of the suite already, it’d be crazy if you looked anywhere else!”
A straightforward implementation cycle can morph into an overreaching, multi-year slog of a project that never has an end in sight, where the vendor pressures you into scaling with new products at a pace which, sure, might suit their fiscal calendar — but maybe won’t suit the rate your business is growing.
The Answer: Back the Stack
There’s a lot of hype in the industry at the moment about getting up and running with all the latest buzzwords — ML, AI, blockchain. These are amazing technologies that the Tech Giants are inarguably pioneering.
The reality though, is that a lot of companies are only just embarking on their digital journey.
I don’t think there’s a single business out there which wouldn’t jump at the chance to embed these technologies at their core — but what’s the smarter play: rushing to scale quickly because you’re afraid of being left behind?
Or, is it adopting a technology mantra that affords you some breathing room to build out the core parts of your digital approach right now, with the ability to bring in advanced technologies when they’re able to meaningfully impact your business?
It’s very easy to fall for the allure of the suite; their sales teams will pitch you your own wildest dreams of digital transformation, of “bridging the gap” to become the next tech unicorn in your industry.
Just don't forget who's also selling the bridge.
If you think a stack approach is right for your business, I recommend that you try the Jahia DXP. We’ve put together a free trial to give you the ability to go hands-on with the platform.