Best-of-breed approach gains traction in collaboration

It has become an increasingly viable option to single-vendor suites

By , IDG News Service |  Unified Communications

Nationwide Insurance talked up its enterprise collaboration systems at last week's SharePoint Conference, offering a glimpse into a best-of-breed strategy that is becoming more popular in this space.

Nationwide, which uses IBM's Lotus Notes for email and Microsoft's SharePoint for collaboration, believes in using core tools from different vendors in pursuit of its business and technology needs.

The approach is becoming more common in a market that for many years has been dominated by integrated, single-vendor suites. Web standards, open APIs (application programming interfaces) and cloud-based applications have made it more feasible to cobble together collaboration systems from different vendors, according to analysts.

So what's the right approach? It depends.

"There isn't a right answer, but you should understand the options and have a strategy," said Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst.

"The suite brings you a broad array of capabilities that are highly integrated, but it potentially locks you into a single-vendor stack. There might be implications about the quality of the different parts of the solution and, if it's running in the cloud, about the ability to integrate it with other on-premise systems," he added.

With best-of-breed, customers can get specialized components in any given space and react to the market "as it moves," but they might end up with some heavy lifting to integrate the different pieces, Koplowitz said.

At Nationwide, Christopher Plescia, vice president of marketing, collaboration and corporate Internet solutions, preaches simplicity and clarity of purpose.

"I don't want to ignite all the features of the tools I have. If I can participate in enterprise social conversations, find and share my documents, do video conferencing, learn about my company and have my email integrated into all of this, that's a pretty good experience," he said.

"I don't need 55 features in each one of those pipes. Sometimes people are so quick to add features that the corporate world doesn't really need," Plescia said in an interview at the SharePoint conference, in Las Vegas.

He wants the flexibility, at an architectural level, to drop and replace products as Nationwide deems it necessary, without being tied to a single vendor platform and to its ecosystem of third-party add-ons and applications.

"We're trying to remain technology neutral with a best-of-breed approach, instead of a [single vendor] suite approach," he said.

Nationwide relies on standards, like HTML5 and JavaScript, to do integrations and development, "so that we can move between various solutions, because you never know when someone's going to jump over someone else," Plescia said.

"We don't know where things are going to go in the future," he added.

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