Solutions Development vs. Systems Integration: A Guide for Non-techies

In business process automation, the choice is between crafting bespoke solutions or enhancing existing systems. Custom software, like a tailored outfit, offers unique advantages but can be resource-intensive. Systems integration is akin to updating a wardrobe: faster and economical but potentially complex.

Navigating the vast business technology landscape, professionals often grapple with a significant question: Should they create custom tools or harness the potential of existing ones? To address this, let’s delve into two primary methodologies—solutions development and systems integration—and explore their benefits, challenges, and the integral concept of system coupling…through the lens of fashion.

Solutions Development: Crafting Tailored Solutions

Solutions development is all about designing custom software applications tailored to address unique organizational needs. Imagine you’re designing a custom outfit; it’s created exactly to your measurements, preferences, and style.


  • Customization: Much like the custom outfit, these solutions fit an organization’s distinct requirements, promoting better efficiency.
  • Consistency: Think of this as having a signature style. Custom-built tools provide a consistent, brand-aligned user experience.
  • Competitive Edge: Just as a unique outfit can set you apart in a crowd, bespoke tools can give businesses an edge over competitors using off-the-shelf platforms.

Challenges and Mitigations:

  • Resource Intensity: Designing custom solutions requires significant resources, akin to creating a couture dress. However, with strategic planning and phased development, managing costs and timelines becomes feasible. Furthermore, no-code development tools and generative artificial intelligence (AI) are helping to bring customer development to the masses.
  • Maintenance Responsibility: It’s like owning a special garment; you’re responsible for its upkeep. With robust documentation and training, this responsibility becomes manageable.

No-code development tools and generative artificial intelligence (AI) are helping to bring customer development to the masses.

Quick take: Custom software development tailors solutions to an organization’s needs, providing advantages like customization and consistency, but requires planning to address challenges like resource intensity and maintenance.

Systems Integration: Enhancing Existing Assets

Picture systems integration as updating and accessorizing your existing wardrobe to create fresh, new looks. It focuses on synergizing operations between existing software systems.


  • Speed and Efficiency: Just as accessorizing an old outfit can give it new life quickly, leveraging existing tools speed up implementation.
  • Resourcefulness: It’s often more economical to rework what you have than buy new. Similarly, refining current tools is usually more cost-effective than new development.
  • Adaptability: As your style evolves, so might your wardrobe needs. Integration platforms adapt, making it easy to add or replace systems.

Challenges and Mitigations:

  • Potential Complexity: Mixing and matching outfits, especially from different eras or styles, can be complex. Similarly, integrating multiple systems can be intricate, but experts can simplify this process.
  • Tool Limitations: Sometimes, an old dress or shoe might not fit current trends or needs. Similarly, some systems may not evolve as required. By keeping abreast of market trends, one can anticipate and bridge these gaps.

Leveraging existing tools speed up implementation [and] is usually more cost-effective than new development.

Quick take: Systems integration, akin to updating a wardrobe, enhances synergy between existing software. It offers speed, resourcefulness, and adaptability but can face complexities, which experts and market awareness help mitigate.


Solutions Development vs. Systems Integration

Solutions Development

“Let’s build the best tool for us.”

Systems Integration

“Let’s use our existing tools better.”



Speed and Efficiency



Competitive Edge



Resource Intensity

Potential Complexity


Missing Functionality

Demystifying Coupling in Tech

Consider coupling as the relationship strength between various items in your wardrobe. Some might be dependent on each other (like a suit jacket and its matching trousers), while others can stand alone. In the tech world, this interdependence within or between systems can significantly impact adaptability, maintenance, and resilience.

Loose vs. Tight Coupling

Loose Coupling

Less interdependency

Less coordination

Less information flow

Tight Coupling

More interdependency

More coordination

More information flow

In Solutions Development:

  • Tight Coupling: This is when components are directly dependent, like our suit jacket and trousers. For example, an e-commerce site might closely connect its payment gateway to its inventory system. Such configurations optimize performance but might be less adaptable.
  • Loose Coupling: Picture this as a versatile jacket that goes with multiple pants or skirts. Modern tech endorses such designs where components work independently, offering flexibility. A blogging platform where plugins work independently exemplifies this.

In Systems Integration:

  • Loose Coupling: Just as you might pair any shirt with various pants, systems designed independently use interfaces or bridges for communication, preserving their core functionalities.
  • Potential for Tight Coupling: Sometimes, two systems might need to be more closely knit, ensuring data flows smoothly. The downside is this might reduce flexibility.

In short, the functions native to a bespoke solution are more tightly coupled than are functions that communicate via an application programming interface (API) or connector tools such as Zapier or Make.

The degree of system coupling can either be a boon or a bane, influencing adaptability, maintainability, and resilience. While closely coupled systems might be efficient, they can inhibit change. On the other hand, loosely coupled systems are more flexible but can face coordination challenges.

SmartSuite LogoAn excellent way to understand the coupling concept is to look at a practical example like SmartSuite, a flexible database and work management platform. Within SmartSuite, users can build closely coupled solutions. But when it is used in conjunction with external tools (e.g., via platforms like Zapier), SmartSuite demonstrates the principle of loose coupling, linking different systems without making them entirely dependent. SmartSuite is often used to develop bespoke solutions. I tend to use it in a systems integration role, where it serves as middleware, providing special functionality not offered by the systems it helps connect. I also used it as a process orchestrator that helps coordinate the function of several applications.

Concluding Thoughts

In the fast-paced realm of business technology, choosing between crafting custom tools and refining existing ones echoes the timeless debate in fashion: quality or quantity? Just as we might choose a custom outfit for special occasions while refreshing an existing wardrobe for daily wear, companies must wisely decide when to innovate and when to integrate. This decision hinges on an organization’s specific goals, resources, and the tech landscape. The comparison to fashion underscores that there’s no universal solution in technology, just as in style. It’s about understanding your unique needs, evaluating the environment, and finding the right balance between personalization and integration.

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