Best-of-Breed vs One-Stop-Shop?

blank James Weatherill - 15 January, 2020

Category : Blog

Best-of-Breed vs One-Stop-Shop?

We often get asked by schools and MATs what’s better – choosing several ‘best-of-breed’ software tools, or one tool that promises almost all the functionality you need? Our CEO, James Weatherill, asks, are there any shades of grey in-between? Jack of all trades, master of none When software was in its infancy in the 90’s

We often get asked by schools and MATs what’s better – choosing several ‘best-of-breed’ software tools, or one tool that promises almost all the functionality you need? Our CEO, James Weatherill, asks, are there any shades of grey in-between?

Jack of all trades, master of none

When software was in its infancy in the 90’s and early 00’s, companies and schools tended to choose ‘one-stop-shop’ systems that could do virtually all the tasks a school needed to run itself. The advantage was lower cost, higher central control and simplified management. But this came at a cost of being tied to one supplier, meaning prices often went up with little product improvement, less flexibility and local variation on customisation. There is also the simple adage that whilst big systems have a lot of functionality, they tend to do more things less well than specialist tools. 

Businesses and schools are now generally moving to best-of-breed strategies which pick a few core systems and integrate these with a wider suite of specialist apps, reducing implementation time, giving greater flexibility and higher levels of functionality. This has all been made possible by a shift to the cloud, where integration can be online and seamless (at least in theory). However, as we’ll show, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Your culture and strategy should dictate your systems choice

The answer to what type of system to choose in my view depends on what you want to achieve as a school or MAT, as well as the culture you’ve set. As I’ve written about before, MATs should be intentional about the culture they want to create, as this will often drive how they make decisions. This is no different for schools and how they select systems, as the diagram below shows.

MAT culture

Let’s break that down…

A) Low need for control + Low complexity = define data standards
If you’re a school or small trust that typically gives high agency to staff, then you might not need to standardise much except for how to use the systems you’ve procured and the data you want to get out. Choosing best-of-breed tools that fit the needs of your individual school (or schools) works well here, with the caveat that you’ll need a plan for how all the systems integrate (don’t forget or underestimate this step or you’ll be swimming in a data soup!).

B) Low need for control + High complexity = collectively agree core systems; staff choose bolt-ons
If you’re a large school or trust, you may like to give an element of agency to your staff to choose systems that can be tailored to the local context of the school. Yet, due to your size, a certain amount of system standardisation is important or there would be chaos. For these types of schools or trusts, it works well to clearly define your non-negotiable core systems (often involving many staff in procurement decisions), then delegate non-core systems to staff to allow variation according to need.

C) High need for control + High complexity = several monolithic systems, centrally controlled
If you’re a large school or MAT involving multiple phases spread across many sites or geographies, who needs high control of the systems staff use (perhaps due to cost or culture), you may prefer more monolithic systems. This approach involves selecting fewer, larger applications and perhaps even hosting them on-site.

The advantages of larger systems are simplified vendor management, cost savings, support simplicity and data standardisation. However, this is at the expense of flexibility (being tied to one vendor makes ‘rip-and-replace’ harder), functionality gaps (the vendor is likely to have less product depth in specific workflows) and more difficult implementation (more tools have to be replaced).

D) High need for control + Low complexity = standardised core systems; staff choose bolt-ons
If you’re a school or MAT of medium size and scale, a hybrid approach of leadership works well with core non-negotiable systems being centrally defined and school staff choosing bolt-ons. This preserves an element of standardisation whilst allowing staff agency over the systems that might be more appropriate to their context. The trick is ensuring the core systems chosen (typically MIS, finance, HR, assessment) work well together so you can retain flexibility.

A bit about how Arbor can help…

Arbor MIS can tick all the boxes above, as we have a wide range of functionality that caters to primary, secondary, special schools and MATs of all shapes, sizes and cultures. However, we know that every school and MAT has their preferred and loved applications and we want to play well within that ecosystem.

We believe choosing best-of-breed software beats monolithic tools that are a ‘jack of all trades’ but master of none, so our focus is being the best MIS that provides all staff with smart information so they can make better decisions, whilst reducing unnecessary admin tasks.

To discover the hundreds of software partners we work with click here.
Get in touch and find out how we could help your school or MAT by emailing me at james@arbor-education.com. Look forward to hearing from you!