Opinion, advice, and analysis by the TNW community

The monolith myth: Why all-in-one tech suites aren’t the solution

It simply doesn't live up to its promises.

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Chris Yates
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Chris Yates

Chris Yates, Platform.shChris Yates is the VP of Marketing for Platform.sh, the idea-to-cloud platform. Chris Yates is the VP of Marketing for Platform.sh, the idea-to-cloud platform.

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There’s a persistent myth in a relatively common word in tech – “suite.” The suggestion is that it’s a group that can operate as one cohesive entity — vendors have been slinging marketing “suites” for years, decades even, and customers have assumed that the supposed one-size-fits-all content and marketing monolith can help them. 

You know the players without me needing to name them. Even by their colors — reds and blues mostly. As the saying goes “Nobody ever got fired for buying [suite vendor].”

They sell a vision of a suite of user-level tools that can solve the problems of a marketing and content professionals in a seamless way — from web content management to e-commerce to analytics. It makes sense in theory — you’ve got one big name that you can trust, and because everything falls under the same brand and works on the same infrastructure. The digital experience should work seamlessly. You and I know it doesn’t.

The truth is — these suites are built from years (and even decades) of acquisitions, and despite the billions invested, they are the direct opposite of every suite’s favorite seam-free buzzword. What’s even worse is that they’re in no way a universal solution to the diverse needs of businesses – they fail you in cost, in complexity, and in features. 

How does this manifest on the customer side? Well, say you’re a large consumer products with many brands. A single stack suite including a web-based CMS, personalization, marketing automation, and so on isn’t going to be able to deliver the corporate website, run your fleet of microsites, run your e-commerce storefronts, and all of your other requirements in a scalable way, from a cost or governance standpoint.

Software licenses, SaaS subscriptions, or development models that are a fit for one use case or team won’t be when multiplied by 100 or 1000. Further, organizational structures (including politics, preferred partnerships, and regional requirements) rarely facilitate a one-size-fits-all technology consensus.

Real organizations have complex needs, and those needs are solved by solutions that scale to fit: WordPress blogs, Adobe Experience Manager for the .com, and Drupal for the community sites. Multiply that times 10s or 1000s of sites, and what you end up with is chaos, as each solution is usually deployed in a vertically oriented stack, separate from the others. That’s where Shadow IT has festered — software installed and used to run an organization without the organization necessarily knowing. 

We need to change course

It’s time for anyone building a company to give up on multi-service software vendors. It’s time to admit that you cannot expect companies to actually offer a one-size-fits-all suite. Instead, IT and digital business leaders can forge a win-win partnership, by looking further down the stack for their platform for success. 

Technology leaders can win by providing access to a range of solutions for digital engagement — including open source and licensed software — delivered on a common platform. At this platform level, they can standardize best practices in DevOps, security, compliance, and access control, and provide developers in business teams with the “primitives,” or building blocks, for delivering the applications their markets need. 

Providing standardized ways of consuming databases, configuring applications, and accessing cloud services like storage and routing can not only save costs, but gives business teams a win, with greater agility and innovation as they no longer have to either manage these stacks on their own, or invest in outside vendors to do so. They can also choose the frameworks and languages that work best for their use case, budget, and team skills and structure.

The biggest reward comes from the next level of platform building: self-service. When consuming primitives becomes simple, and development teams can access them without intervention of central IT, Shadow IT fades away. 

Business teams can iterate and innovate faster because they’re focusing on shipping great product (be it campaigns, content, features, etc.) to their users rather than running their own operations or trying shoehorn a single vendor’s suite into each and every use case. All the while, the organization benefits from a reduced surface area for security and compliance risk.

Published October 14, 2019 — 11:00 UTC