As a very new, emerging industry, the coworking and flex space world is going through an exciting evolution. After the perfect storm, most of the coworking operators that survived, are turning their full attention to two directions – operational efficiency and growth! Zooming in, one of the most critical elements of both operational efficiency and growth, after hiring the right people, is technology. Technology is the support system that makes your teams efficient and drives growth!
Choosing the right technology platform for your coworking space is no easy task though. On a very high level, you’ve got two options – best-in-class systems or single-vendor software.
When flex space providers take a best-of-breed (or “best-in-class”) approach to building their technology stack, it involves selecting various platforms and tools that serve specific purposes. Put another way, instead of purchasing a product suite from a single vendor that tries to solve all problems, it means adopting specialized solutions from different vendors and integrating them.
On the other hand, single-vendor solutions (or “all-in-one” systems) usually cover a lot of different verticals within the same market.
Let’s zoom in on the differences and benefits of these two completely different approaches!
Best-of-breed vs. all-in-one coworking solutions
Best-of-breed systems enable businesses to mix and match specialized technology systems from different vendors. A single-vendor approach, on the other hand, is when a business uses a suite of products from the same vendor. For example, there are vendors that you can subscribe to their financial system and be forced to use everything else from them – like, property management, space management, IT management, access control, payments, accounting, Sales CRM, marketing tools, member experience, etc.
Single-vendor solutions are appealing because, in theory, they can be deployed across an organization all at once. The problem with this, however, is that your staff would have to rely on the products in the suite, regardless of whether these are the best solution for the task. Almost always, the individual products within the suite are significantly subpar to the best-of-breed tools on the market. As a result, your employees will either be at a disadvantage by having to use suboptimal products or, will go around the requirement and start using other tools off the main suite. Which creates data discrepancy issues as well as IT and security risks.
The single-vendor approach will almost certainly restrict your abilities to innovate as you will have to wait for one vendor to release new versions. Which, by definition, all-in-one systems are slower to innovate because they must cover an endless ground instead of being best in one or few things.
At a first glance, taking the best-of-breed approach seems complicated thought. It involves working with multiple vendors and systems. Integrating these oftentimes might be challenging. Then it comes to the issues with data discrepancies and reporting. But when done properly and when you have a solid platform foundation, you can combine all of the best-of-breed technology into one fully integrated system.
Pros and cons of using best-in-class coworking software tools
Before deciding whether or not to use best-of-breed software or go for an all-in-one solution, you should weigh the pros and cons. While the advantages and disadvantages listed below can apply to operators of any size, we’ve included some specific considerations for large coworking providers, landlords, as well as small or medium-sized businesses so you can make a more informed choice.
One important caveat is that going for the ‘best-of-breed’ doesn’t mean you don’t need a solid foundation. Usually, you still need to step on a core platform, which essentially means a system that solves some of the problems really well and is hyper-integrated with other best-in-class solutions. It also must be easily extensible. For example, at OfficeRnD Flex, we try to solve a few problems extremely well, like coworking space billing, inventory management, bookings, and providing outstanding member experience. Then we try to integrate with as many as possible amazing tools, apps, and systems.
Advantages of best-of-breed systems
- Deeper solutions: By taking a platform approach, you can handpick applications based on the individual needs and workflows of your teams. Then you can look for specific features and functions that will satisfy the needs. This will ensure you’re using the best tools across the organization, whether it’s a Sales CRM, like HubSpot, marketing automation, accounting like Xero or QB, or an access control system.
- Quick innovation: Hyper-focused companies tend to build more modern solutions, faster. They solve one or few problems well. Also, tend to go deeper into the problem and offer a lot more creative solutions. This way, they’re more likely to drive innovation than “swiss army knife” solutions.
- Price flexibility: Most best-of-breed solutions are a lot more flexible on pricing too. There’s usually more competition thus they need to be more flexible on pricing. Small coworking operators can start small and expand their technology stack alongside their growing business.
- Faster ROI: Best-in-class platforms are often quicker to deploy and with more intuitive user interfaces and better user experience. Also, these are almost 99 out of 100 easier to adopt than huge all-in-one products, which means a faster return on investment.
- Greater optionality: Smaller coworking spaces usually have fewer complications and simpler processes that can be solved by a lot more tools out there. Going for best-of-breed solutions makes it easier to solve your problems without committing to an expensive suite of products with complicated onboarding and training.
- Better productivity: When your team can use the systems they want, they will certainly be more successful in their specific departments and roles!
- More integrations: Best-of-breed solutions are designed to be flexible, and also always will integrate with other best-of-breed systems. This will allow you to connect multiple systems for more efficient workflows.
Disadvantages of best-of-breed systems
- Complexity: Picking individual solutions means large operators or landlords may have to deal with multiple systems, databases, and vendors. This will surely lead to a number of complications during onboarding, training, reporting and analytics, maintenance, integration, etc.
- Data discrepancies: Organizations that use multiple software solutions may struggle with data integration. For example, using various systems can result in compromised data integrity, manual data entry, and errors in synchronization. You may also need to overcomplicate your infrastructure by subscribing to expensive data warehousing solutions in order to streamline and manage your data in a centralized way.
- Integration challenges: Integrating third-party tools can be difficult and time-consuming, especially for smaller coworking operators that lack the technical expertise in-house.
- Unpredictable costs: Best-of-breed solutions usually charge based on usage and this can make the costs very dynamic and hard to budget. The cost of ownership can increase if not managed well. Not to mention, managing multiple licensing agreements and vendor relationships may require a substantial time investment.
- Inconsistent experience: Using multiple systems may result in a subpar experience for your staff but also members and tenants. For example, they may have to use different apps for booking, access control, maintenance, etc. While best-of-breed applications are generally more modern than all-in-one solutions, consistency in design and experience may not be possible with a best-of-breed approach.
The power of the platform integrations
Historically, all-in-one solutions have had a massive penetration in the real estate software market. Surprisingly or not, most asset owners and property management companies (landlords for short) are using or are trying to use single-vendor systems that are solving, or trying to solve, all their problems – from finance and accounting, through operations and experience, to sales and marketing. That’s very difficult in today’s extremely dynamic and fast-changing world!
On the other hand, coworking spaces, as a new and modern segment of the real estate market, grew with the understanding and notion of platforms. Most coworking space operators are a lot more likely to use best-in-class tools than single-vendor solutions. Which is awesome!
However, as landlords are coming into the coworking and flex space market, we will see a lot more single-vendor systems coming to the market.
At OfficeRnD, we firmly believe that a solid flex space core platform that is fully integrated with the best-of-breed tools is the way to go for optimizing efficiency through technology!
That’s why we will invest all our effort in 2023 to build the most robust core platform, work with our partners on a brand new app marketplace and enhance our extensibility features. Read more about Flex Roadmap 2023.
Cheers to the open and best-in-class platforms out there! 🙂