The Taste of Vanilla

At the recent Oracle Industry Connect Conference held in Boston, a number of speakers from prominent retailers including Kohl’s, Hot Topic, and C. Wonder extolled the virtues of “vanilla” implementations of enterprise systems. In this context, vanilla means implementing an enterprise platform with all or many of that vendor’s applications, minimizing customization or use of one-off “best of breed” solutions.

A similar “ERP” (enterprise resource planning) implementation strategy was popular with retailers in the 1990s, but a “best of breed” approach focused on integrating individual solutions from many different vendors gained popularity in the early 2000s as the industry focused on enabling operations for e-commerce. However, factors including the advent of hosted platforms, which eliminates the effort and cost of managing large enterprise systems in-house, have made vanilla enterprise implementations popular again. Here are three benefits (and one caveat) to flavoring your IT infrastructure with vanilla.

Vanilla is Quick
Vanilla implementations are much faster than custom implementations. Speakers at Oracle Industry Connect estimated that a vanilla rollout can take as much as 50% less time to complete than a custom rollout. Time that would otherwise be spent testing, integrating and modifying various applications is eliminated. In an era of rapid responsiveness, when customers expect optimal performance and the latest technological capabilities without wait or failure, a fast systems launch is critical.

Vanilla is Cost-effective
No major retail IT deployment can truly be called “cheap,” but vanilla implementations tend to be more cost-effective than custom implementations. The workload on systems integration partners (and all speakers at Oracle Industry Connect agreed that even the most vanilla implementations require the assistance of third-party specialists) is much less, the need for middleware solutions is reduced, and cost of operation tends to be lower with fewer personnel needed. With financial executives taking a more active role in IT decisions, the cost-effectiveness of vanilla enterprise implementations makes them an attractive sell.

Vanilla Meets Most Needs
The majority of vanilla implementation still involve some small customizations here and there; most speakers estimated a vanilla rollout will be about 10 to 15% modified. This reflects the fact that in recent years, most enterprise IT providers have made great strides in identifying all the processes involved in running a retail operation and developing applications that perform those processes with a high degree of effectiveness.

The need for specialized one-off solutions has in many cases been reduced or eliminated by enterprise vendors expanding their functionality and industry view, aided in some cases by acquisitions of specialty solutions providers. Every organization has its own unique business challenges and needs, but that does not mean a vanilla enterprise rollout cannot meet most or all of their requirements.

One Caveat
As mentioned in the intro, there is one caveat to selecting a vanilla implementation. Broadly speaking, the less customization an enterprise already has built into its architecture, the easier a vanilla enterprise rollout will be. An organization that has a well-established best-of-breed architecture with middleware connecting numerous point solutions from different vendors on multiple platforms will have a tougher time going vanilla than an organization that already has an enterprise platform-based infrastructure, or is starting from scratch.

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