Systems Integration 101
Systems Integration - Oh no, not this again!
As entrepreneurs and business owners we hear the term "Systems Integration" thrown around quite a bit. With so much attention paid to an uninspiring, almost boring aspect of business intelligence and operations it's no wonder that systems integration gets such a bad wrap. Regardless of existing perceptions, business systems integration can either make or break an organization.
What is systems integration and why do I need it?
In Layman's Terms (See what I did there!) enterprise systems integration is the automation and interlacing of all the business applications your company uses. This encompasses ERP, ECM, CRM, CMS, E-Commerce, inventory, and accounting applications. Basically all of the resources and tools that make your workflow, well ... FLOW. Making sure that all of these different systems communicate with each other in a real-time capacity can greatly benefit an organization of any size.
Work Smarter . . . Not Harder
The key emphasis here is efficacy of your business systems and global acceptance throughout your organization. We all understand the importance of profitability and what do we do every time we're experiencing less than adequate numbers? That's right, we look to cut costs. One of the most overlooked benefits to having integrated enterprise systems is the efficiency it provides. If time truly is money, then we have to ask ourselves, "How much time is being wasted or lost with my current software configurations?" With standardized systems and procedures in place, it can alleviate company waste in the form of quality work performed over a given amount of time.
Overcoming Employee Resistance
One of the major obstacles I see when helping clients who are transitioning to new systems or integrating existing systems with new business modules is employee push-back. It's just the nature of the beast. Whether they are concerns over learning new software, or a fear over losing one's job to an automated solution, employees are going to be timid when it comes to this kind of change.
As a business owner or manager it's important to acknowledge these fears and deal with them prior to initiating the change. There should be several round-table discussions to get all of the perceived threats and fears on the table and in the open. Talking through these pain-points can help alleviate all of the worry and help with the global acceptance of the transition.
Look for a post next month on dispelling common employee objections to change.
A Start-Ups Best Friend
A common misconception about systems integration is that it is just for established organizations or Fortune 500 companies. This couldn't be further from the truth. One of the greatest things to happen to modern business computing was the advent of The Cloud. Not only did it revolutionize Server Management and company asset storage, it also opened the door to affordable applications without the need of an expensive server or IT department. This is most beneficial to the start-up; those with limited operational capital and the biggest need for automation.
Complete Enterprise solutions can be found for less than $100 a month and even large companies like Oracle have implemented an a la carte subscription service to provide only those tools that a company needs without all of the cost of a full scale business suite installation. It should also be noted that the perfect time to instill efficient procedures and services through systems integration is in the beginning where push-back is limited and scalability is a must.
I See the Benefit - Where Do I Start?
The complicated answer here is, it depends.
For those companies with established IT departments and systems already in place, it's a good idea to audit those existing systems and define any shortcomings. For example, Forbes magazine addressed the situation of lost leads and found that companies could be losing or mishandling up to 71% of those leads. A number of these were lost due to non-existing integration of marketing initiatives and CRM software. That translates to lost potential revenue and ad spend waste. This is just one pitfall companies endure due to inadequate systems integration, but there are hundreds more where that came from.
For companies that don't have existing software or the departments to initiate change, qualified change consultants and those experienced with systems integration are easily accessible. An important factor to keep in mind here is that no matter who you choose to assist your business with integration, they should offer an extensive playbook on how the change will take place, what resources will be necessary to initiate the change, and should offer extensive training and customer service throughout the process. Systems integration can a large undertaking and you should have the security knowing that your hand will be held until your organization sees results.