I’ve written a lot about integration as of late. The reason for this is, I have found that one of the keys to driving profits is to find ways to automate work currently done by human hands. Data entry and work moving around the same information is a drain on productivity. Which, a drain on profits, equals a drain on profits. I can hear you saying, “okay Captain Obvious”, we all know that these things can be affect overall profits. I completely know this is probably not news to anyone. But what we all know, doesn’t make it obvious on how to get there.
Now figuring out how to automate and properly use integration can be no simple task. You need to have systems that will integrate with each other to start. You need to know what’s possible before you can move forward. And most importantly, you need to know how to keep these integrations secure.
Let’s start with assessing your processes. The first step is to identify a few things:
- Bottlenecks – You’ll want to identify where your processes have bottlenecks. Often these bottlenecks happen when data needs to be moved from one system to another, or from one person to another. Maybe it happens when a staff member needs information from another before moving on, like an approval.
- Start with the obvious – With all processes there will be obvious places that can be automated and just for some reason, no one has taken the time to automate. A good example here is Email. For many people, email is a time suck. Items go into someone’s inbox and may as well be some abyss in space. Most email clients offer very easy to setup automation, and if used correctly can save lots of time.
- Evaluate cost – Another area to assess within your processes, is cost. Sometimes we just assume that a certain part of a process is a specific person’s job, and no one ever questions it. But if you consider that person’s salary, it may not be the most cost effective. It may be worth implementing a whole new system to handle those tasks. Maybe the cost of a new well integrated system will be covered by having that higher paid staff member working on something more valuable to the company.
Get the Most out of Your Current Tools
Before jumping into making a bunch of changes, look at what you currently have. The most cost-effective approach is to use your current tools to the best of their abilities. I haven’t met anyone yet that can’t learn new ways to use their current tools. This is a good process to go through as well, because you find out that many of your staff may be using different tools to accomplish the same job, usually costing the company more money. Consolidate these tools down to the most effective and remove anything superfluous and standardize on one solution.
Use Your Vendors
This is an area where most businesses learn the hard way, including myself. There is always a shiny new toy around the corner. And salespeople are very good at letting you know all the problems they will resolve. However, they never tell you that once they sell you that product, you may never hear from them again. With current technology, vendors love to call themselves your “partners”. Know your vendors. Search out vendors that will help you achieve your goals.
Make sure to research them well enough to know whether that has any real meaning to them. Ask them about their onboarding. Ask them what systems they integrate with or have plans to integrate with. Vendor support can make or break the success of a new system. And if you do sign up, keep them on the hook to make sure you are successful with this new product. It’s their job.
Build Your Systems with Automation in Mind
Typically, most businesses have just a few main lines of business applications, or LOBs as we call them. These are usually the bedrock of your business from a technology perspective. It will be the place that most of your staff spend the most of their time when they are on a computer. For more efficient processes, they need to have the ability to integrate with other applications, period. If you’ve been using the same software for the last 20 years, and it’s clunky and old and doesn’t integrate, make a plan to get rid of it. Also, if you are looking at new systems, find ones that integrate with your current LOB applications.
No integration means manual labor. It’s not always an easy decision to make, but for the sake of your business, make it. Automation means a reduction in operational costs, an increase in productivity, high availability, an increase in reliability, and in most cases optimizing performance. Just do it.
Consult Your IT Department
This process is always daunting, there’s really no way around it, but there’s help. Especially when it comes to keeping systems secure. Ask your technology department. We love this stuff. Also, it’s often that your IT person has some knowledge about some of the internal processes, but not all. Sometimes a quick talk about what you are trying to accomplish, will result in a quickly automated and improved process.