Have you ever noticed that some people use the words ‘products’ and ‘solutions’ interchangeably, as if they are equivalent in meaning?
In the world of data integration providers, how can one tell if an offering is a solution or product — and what is the difference between the two?
In this blog article, Dr. VL will break down all you need to know about integration solutions versus integration products to help you navigate your search for the best data integration partner for your business.
Have you ever been to a professional in your personal life who pushes products on you instead of listening to and addressing your real issues? We’ve all been there: waiting patiently for the expert we’ve entrusted the care of our items to return with their impending diagnosis and proposed solutions.
Have you ever felt the steady unease while waiting on your doctor, mechanic, IT professional, or other niche professional expert? Have you ever felt that small dose of anxiety waft over you as they return to you, identifying a serious problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible? And this solution is never cheap: expensive pills, a new transmission, a corrupted hard drive.
The unease of handing your property or persons into the care of a professional, even an expert, is rooted in trust. When looking for a partner to fulfill your data integration needs, it should be important to you that your are looking for an integration partner, and not just and integration provider or company. You should strive to find a data integration expert that you can trust and count on as a business partner – which necessitates doing your research on not only the subject of data integration, but the integration providers too.
Part of the journey of self-education before speaking with any sales consultants from any of your prospective integration partners is truly understanding the difference between integration products and integration solutions. We will continue our medical metaphor throughout the discussion below for ease of describing concepts.
An Integration Product (Plugin) ≠ An Integration Solution
The general understanding of a ‘product’ in the data integration industry is a one-size-fits-all, off the shelf fix. The Plugin or App. There is usually a predetermined set of products of enough range to satisfy most customers of a certain type, the average type – in other words, Product A works for Company Type A, but Company Type A may be narrowly defined as an e-commerce retailer specializing in non-perishable clothing goods with revenues of $10,000-$50,000 a month and between 1-10 employees.
You can likely already spot the issue with this approach to data integration: what happens if you, as a prospective customer, don’t fit neatly into any of the predetermined categories that match a predetermined product set? Well, you could always try ramming a square peg into a round hole, but the results are often similar to this story reviewed by our partners, Blue Link ERP, below:
Daneson, a manufacturer and retailer of high-end flavoured toothpicks, had evaluated 6 or 7 systems before partnering with Blue Link ERP. Peter Smith, Founder of Daneson, recounts that they “tried ever single app that’s in [Shopify’s] system”, but there was a recurring issue in that the integrations that often come with ecommerce plugins like Shopify are usually geared toward retail only and limited in what they did. This didn’t work well for Daneson, they required any system they used to work with manufacturers and wholesalers as well. As a result, these 6 or 7 systems didn’t work very well, and Daneson continued to search for a solution provider that could accommodate their specific business needs. While Peter Smith admits that Blue Link has “been the most expensive product that we’ve used,” he adds that “it’s been very well executed… This part of our business [fulfilling orders] used to consume 70-80% of our time is down to 5-10 minutes in the morning – and that’s including sending emails [to customers]”.
Daneson’s needs were specific and unique to their products, supply chain, customers, systems, and more. While they had tried multiple times to get one-size-fits-all apps to fulfill their needs, Daneson ultimately came to both Blue Link ERP and VL to integrate their systems and data with Shopify and their 3PL logistics provider.
An integration product is similar to seeing a doctor in the emergency room for a broken arm, and receiving no attention to your specific problem. The doctor hands you a band aid for your broken arm when it was really designed for a cut.
While this band aid may have worked for the last 10 people in the E.R. before you, it’s plain to see it isn’t the right solution for you – it is truly and simply a one-size-fits-all product.
Data integration is a complex process, and no easy feat; even Peter Smith of Daneson recognized that “integration is a huge amount of work… it forces you to look at your business is a way that is very healthy, but it is a huge amount of work”. It can all be boiled down to the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’. Investing in a customized data integration solution and not just the cheapest product off a shelf is investing in your company’s future; these systems, if set up correctly, will help you save time, money, and resources, and will allow you to scale easily should the market or your business strategy call for it in the future.
To further drive home the difference between an integration product, or plugin and an integration solution, we’ve summarized some of the key differences in this chart:
Integration Products vs. Integration Solutions
Integration Product – Plugin
|Comparatively Inexpensive||Comparatively Expensive|
|One-Size-Fits-All||Customized to the Client’s Needs|
|Limited Functionality||Customized Functionality|
|Varying Degree of Customer Service||Higher Quality of Care, Customer Service|
|Pushy Sales Tactics||Consultative Strategy Planning Over Time|
|Disposable & Replaceable by Other One-Size-Fits-All Products||Built to Suit Client’s Needs – Solution Longevity|
|No Ability to Scale, Customize||High Degree of Scalability, Customized to Suit Client’s Programs, Functions, and Needs|
|Limited Troubleshooting Ability||On-Demand or Proactive Troubleshooting|
|“Integration Seller”||“Integration Partner”|
Checklist for Prospective Integration Partners
Now that we’ve hopefully clarified the difference between an integration product, or plugin, and an integration solution, we thought it would be helpful to provide you a checklist of questions you can take with you as you begin your journey into being smart-busy through properly integrated systems. These questions can be answered through preliminary research on prospective partners, or in person.
- Who is the prospective integration partner? Look into their history in the industry. How did they get their start? How long have they been in the industry? Have they been able to evolve with changing times, technologies, and systems? You should be looking for signs of their business being healthy and able to adapt with the rapidly changing times.
- Who is their average client? Is their average client similar to your business, or vastly different? What are the goals of their average client versus your company’s goals? Do they deal in all the same type of clients, or do they show versatility through taking on a variety of clients?
- How long does a typical client stay with the prospective integration partner? Do they have a high turn-over? This may signal an integration product being sold as a solution – and one that doesn’t fit well for very many customers for very long.
- Do they have any testimonials, case studies, or peers you trust recommending them? Do they have a network of partners that are willing to recommend them? Do the partners recommend your prospective integration partner highly? A partner who is well-respected for their integration solutions will have clients and partners singing their praise.
- Are their sales consultants focused on having you sign on the dotted line, or are they more concerned with solving your problems (even if this process takes weeks or months)? Are they dedicated to their bottom line, or helping you build your business using best-of-breed, customized solutions?
Selecting the right integration partner for your business – one that is focused on delivering customized, best-of-breed service, and invested in helping you grow your company – should be a decision you do not take lightly. Data integration is a complex task, and it is always better to do things right the first time rather than try to patchwork several solutions together over time. Do your research and take your time in making your decision. The right integration partner will understand, respect, and nurture your desire to make the right decision for your business in your own time, the wrong partner will not.
Integration with the right integration solution partner is well worth the work and the wait: As Peter Smith, Founder of Daneson put it,
“[Running a business] is a huge amount of work. If you run yourself efficiently, and really focus on those details, life gets so much easier. [Integration with the right partners] lets you grow so much faster, and it lets you do really interesting things”
VL is proud to be one of the respected solution-providing partners that has helped and will continue to help Daneson and Peter Smith achieve their goals. We will be releasing an infographic to help you in your journey of partner selection. So stay tuned.