Step Up to World Class Standards (1,745 words)
The upside of the "best of breed" approach is that each system is presumably fine-tuned for its core competence. Unfortunately, there are many downsides to this strategy. First and foremost, although each system may be best suited to its appointed task, it's likely (in fact, almost certain) the assumptions and logic underlying each of these systems will be different, and in some cases incompatible.
There also are cost considerations. When you go for the so-called "best," you pay a hefty premium. And to get these multiple systems to talk to one another and share data, you're likely to invest considerably more in programming effort and in some kind of "middleware."
Finally, as time passes, keeping the systems in sync with one another can become increasingly difficult, as upgrades from one vendor may cause problems in another's system.
An alternative strategy is to invest in a comprehensive direct-commerce package designed to handle customer orders, inventory and fulfillment on a consolidated platform. While such systems may be a "jack of all trades, master of none," they're often better suited to the direct-commerce environment than their "best of breed" cousins. They not only have most of the same features and functions of each of the specialized systems, but also have a major advantage in having been fine-tuned for direct commerce.
Let's look at one example. Direct marketing fulfillment involves high-volume, low-value distribution—that is, a large number of orders must be shipped every day, and each order is relatively low in value, less than $500 in most cases. But typical non-direct-commerce distribution centers and the systems that manage them are optimized for high-value, low-volume environments characterized by a few dozen or a few hundred shipments, each one consisting of multiple pallet loads or large case lots, with values in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per order.