Endpoint Management | System Administration

The “Single Pane Of Glass” Debate: Five Key Questions To Ask

11. March 2021, Avatar of Sean HerbertSean Herbert

The perennial debate over Integrated vs. “best of breed” software solutions has taken on added importance among IT managers recently. Interest in UEM solutions especially has grown along with cybersecurity and endpoint management workloads, the new reality of remote workforces, and rapidly expanding digital transformation projects.

Well-designed UEM solutions can deliver more efficient, consistent and seamless workflows for the everyday IT management processes. They also can automate many routine time-consuming tasks to free staff for new initiatives and IT training.

In practice, UEM integration can, for example, enable your contract & license compliance systems to speak with your asset management software, or your endpoint security products to take cues from your IT Service Management (ITSM) suite. Those and other capabilities are possible only with truly integrated data sharing between IT management functions and a consistent and intuitive admin UX.

IT solutions vendors have taken notice of the interest in integration with claims of “unified” products and capabilities. The good news is that IT executives and their staffs have a wide range of nominally integrated solutions to consider. The bad news is that the definition of “integrated” or “unified” changes according to what suits the vendor’s products. That’s why you see old familiar terms like “best of breed” and “single provider” applied to products that may be neither integrated nor unified in any practical sense.

So how do you sort out the truly integrated solutions from the ones that are united only in a product brochure? Here are five questions to ask vendors to ensure you aren’t being led down the garden path:

Five Key Questions

1) Do you own all of your products or OEM?

Some vendors license and re-brand components of another company’s software to add capabilities that customers want but that the vendor does not provide. “OEMing” software from another company can make a lot of sense from the vendor’s competitive point of view because of the time and cost to create a product from scratch. From a potential customer’s point of view, however, the downside is that they cannot get truly integrated functionality. Instead, they’re presented with a re-skinned wrapper around disparate systems.

In comparison, vendors who develop and own their products have the ability to unify management functions sharing a central database within single management console.

2) Is integration native and built-in or a retrofit of your existing set of separate products?

Some vendors are taking sets of stand-alone, separately designed and coded products and retroactively bolting them together via a simple "single pane of glass" shell overlay. You’ll typically find them from vendors who have added new capabilities through acquisitions, i.e., big companies buying out smaller competitors or innovators. Unless the different products are either built to work together or redesigned and recoded to do so after a substantial additional investment of time and money, actual integration is unlikely.

3) What APIs do you offer?

Vendors who prioritize integrated capabilities will provide the ability to connect with other applications, whether their own or even a competitor’s. You’ll often see APIs published by larger providers of software for core IT functions such as help desk and ticketing systems, ITSM and others. Some providers also offer API stores with plugins to connect otherwise disparate systems. That benefits customers and cultivates a community of plug-in developers while creating few if any competitive issues.

4) Do you and how do you test or certify third-party API software?

APIs are great but only if they work as advertised. Just because a third-party developer created a plugin for an API doesn’t mean that it will work reliably, securely and as intended, or even install in the first place. A UEM vendor that regularly audits third-party API add-ins and tests for currency and compatibility will prevent the sketchy ones from reaching you in the first place.

Testing and certifying APIs and third-party add-ins also ensures security. The last thing a vendor wants is a backdoor network intrusion introduced through a seemingly trivial API. It can turn a helpful tool into a terrible, reputation-killing nightmare. Also ask vendors if and how often they patch or update their APIs. Some vendors may be reluctant to do so for fear of breaking existing integrations.

5) What is most important to me?

No solution can fit every need so look to strike a balance between completeness of product features and the strength of integration. “Best of breed” solutions use that term intentionally to try to paper over those trade-offs. They may have good standalone capabilities but require a lot more time and money for them – and for you -- to develop and maintain the APIs you need to achieve some degree of integration. Alternatively, providers of software designed, supported and continuously upgraded as integrated solutions may hit your sweet spots with a secure, cohesive product set that better matches your requirements. 

In the end, use those five questions as part of your vendor screening and evaluation process. The extra thought you put into tailoring those questions to fit your IT needs and plans will save you time, money and an incalculable amount of aggravation down the road.

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