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A Concise Introduction to Integration Problems Part II: How to Solve Them

(This is the second of our two-part series on integration problems.
Click to read
Part I: How to Spot Them.)

So, you have identified that your company has integration problems. Morale is affected, reporting is overly complicated, you can’t plan for the future, and customer service is suffering. So, what can you do about it?

Look Before You Leap 

When looking to fix integration problems, you have a spectrum of options: at one end is a long series of fixes to individual issues; at the other end is a major, transformational project.

Either way, strategize first! Before you do anything, your Board should consider these questions:

Be aware that this discussion can reveal personal tensions in your organization. In most cases, when systems aren’t integrated, it means that departments aren’t communicating with each other — so this kind of discussion can be quite stormy, as departments may blame each other for your company’s struggles.

Avoid the blame-game. Aim for a dispassionate acceptance of the current realities and the need for change. Then figure out who will have ownership of the solution.

Putting Together Your Integration Dream Team

You need focus to solve integration problems. So, start with a competent team that has resources and authority. Appoint a Director to be accountable and give them a twelve-week timeframe within which solving integration problems is their priority.

Why twelve weeks? Because the time period needs to be long enough to actually make a difference, but short enough that business-as-usual issues can wait, so this project can genuinely be a priority.

The initial focus should be on creating a list of issues with (a) estimates of the three-year business impact of each, and (b) an assessment of how readily solvable the problem. From this list you can select, say, the top three or four problems with a commitment to solve or substantially reduce them in twelve weeks.

How to Take Small Steps Forward

Remember that integration solutions are on the spectrum between individual fixes and a big, transformational project. It may be tempting to think big — but it may not be necessary! For each issue, consider the following:

More Serious Redesign Projects

If it turns out that more serious redesigns are necessary, you’ll need an even more strategic approach. Go back to the beginning and consider how to reorganize your business to suit the needs of your customers. For example, automate manual activities wherever possible, unless it makes commercial sense or provides enhanced service that your customers value.

Then start thinking through the main processes, key performance indicators, and options for back-end systems. (Naturally, if you reduce the number of back-end systems, there will be fewer technical integrations, so there should be fewer sources of potential problems.)

A word of warning: some vendors market their solutions as a single brand, when, under the bonnet, they actually provide multiple products which are not fully integrated. So, one “product” may actually be composed of many partly integrated pieces of software.

The solution may then lie in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Basically, ERP takes all of the core processes you need to run your company — finance, HR, manufacturing, supply chain, services, procurement, and others — and integrates them into a single system.

The goal is to provide all the separate aspects of your business with the same information in real-time. And the result can a huge springboard to scalability and growth.

You can read Part I: How to Spot Them here.

For more posts on ERP and Integration issues, visit our Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

A Concise Introduction to Integration Problems Part I: How to Spot Them

Integration problems can cause your business quite a bit of damage. When systems don’t talk to each other, it inhibits growth and undermines morale. It means more mistakes and manual work. It makes reporting difficult or impossible! To make matters even worse, the problems can be difficult to understand in detail, and even more difficult to untangle.

Of course, every company has its challenges. So how do you know if integration is behind them? The first step is considering the specific issues facing your company. If you’re seeing one or more of the issues below, take a hard look at how your systems are working together or not.

The Six Most Common (and Frustrating!) Results of Integration Problems

  1. Morale is suffering. Inefficient processes don’t just hurt the bottom line. They cause errors and delays, leading to frustration and arguments. And they make it harder to provide one of the most satisfying aspects of any business – good service to customers.
  2. Reporting is inaccurate and time-consuming. Managing a successful business requires accurate and timely data. But when there are integration issues, reporting is over complicated, requiring major manual effort. You may also lack simple dashboards for managers around the business, which makes it harder to make the right decisions and delegate authority.
  3. Service is suffering. It’s not easy to provide good service when you lack up-to-date information on stock, delivery, or products. Your people should put the customer first, but their energy is drained by system problems.
  4. It’s harder for marketing and sales. Due to lack of data, great ideas never get off the ground. For example, the sales director has a clever idea for a new campaign, but it’s almost impossible to crunch the numbers. Or new plans for intelligent cross-selling or up selling are impractical, because nobody can effectively analyse purchasing habits.
  5. You can’t strategize. Your online strategy is impossible if back-end systems can’t provide a simple platform. Without seamless back-office processes, you can’t easily analyse product, stock, or sales data; you lack effective product searches and other simple “must-haves.”
  6. People are choke-points. Individuals have their own vital lists and workarounds, so they become individually critical to the operation. When these key people are on vacation or sick, then the whole business is affected and if they leave it’s a major problem!

Why Is It So Hard to Solve Integration Problems?

It can be hard to figure out solutions because busy directors just don’t have time to get to the bottom of it all. Put simply, there may be no one in your business with the skills, time, resources, and authority to solve these problems.

Another reason may lay in an accumulation of small problems, each intricate and complicated in their own way. For instance, when faced with integration issues many well-intentioned people create workarounds – their own special spreadsheets, databases, trackers, or the like. Each one solves an individual problem but adds further layers of complexity and time-consuming tasks.

Over time, more people are employed to deal with these tasks and, of course, they see it as their job. No one thinks of smart ways to eliminate their own job!

The good news is that while solving integration problems can be difficult, it’s definitely possible. If integration issues are hampering your company, learn what you can by reading the next instalment which will be published shortly.

You can read Part II: How to Solve Them here.

For more posts on ERP and Integration issues, visit our Knowledge Center.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

AI and Midmarket Businesses: The Real Opportunities, and the Hype

From Amazon to Zappos, companies are investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence (AI). They’re using AI to radically change how they work — to redefine good service and to massively reduce their costs.
Many mid-sized businesses, however, feel — incorrectly! — that this kind of innovation is out of reach.

This briefing aims to clarify how AI actually works, and how mid-sized businesses can use it to drive growth. We also provide some real-world examples drawn from our own clients to illustrate the art of the possible. To read the full article on what impact AI (Artificial Intelligence) is having on business click on the thumbnail below.

 

Visit our Knowledge Center which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT Directors, CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with SME and mid-market organisations and we frequently help our clients use IT to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

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Graeme Freeman
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