These days, as conference calls are held from treadmills, cell phone apps update thirteen social media profiles simultaneously, and just-in-time distribution will soon be parallel to the Pony Express, how many hoops should you have to jump through to get the whole picture on a customer? As few as possible please? I thought so.
I see scores of businesses in this situation. You’ve invested in multiple pieces of software over the years to meet the various needs of your operation. These applications contain critical information about your customers, but it is all heavily separated: AR information in the accounting system, contact notes in Sage CRM (SageCRM), shipping history in a third party LTL program, etc. Likely, your applications were added one-by-one, as needed and stand-alone because, perhaps,you or your consultants didn’t have the vision at the time to conceive of integration or integrating the systems seemed to be a luxury relative to your immediate business needs. A third,frequent offender, is that the original software implemented was limited in its ability to share information with other programs so attempting to do so was more tedious or expensive than it was worth and consultants or implementers simply advised you that it was impossible.
Despite what previous parties have told you, generally speaking, all applications can integrate one way or another. So, not being a programmer, how do you begin the integration process for your business? For today, put aside technical considerations and strictly start with this list:
1. You must unlearn what you have learned (Yoda). Get visionary and forget everything former vendors and consultants have told you about what can’t be done regarding integrating your applications.
2. Sketch it out. Grab a legal-pad and a pen; draw and label boxes for each of your applications. Don’t limit yourself; if it is an application used in your business, write it down.
3. Connect the dots. Draw arrows connecting the applications; use solid lines indicating relationships that you know exist (e.g. Sage CRM and Microsoft Outlook) and use dotted lines to connect applications where you are unsure but would like them to integrate.
4. List it out. On another page of your legal pad, jot down all of the fields of information to share between applications; don’t limit yourself. Again, be visionary; don’t let previous conversations edit your desires. And now that I have encouraged you not to limit yourself …
5. Be choosey. Recognize that it may not be practical, necessary, or affordable to integrate all information between all systems. Try a NEED/WANT/LIKE approach; use different colored inks to indicate data that you NEED, WANT, or would LIKE to integrate between applications and list them below each relationship line you established.
Coming Up: Now it’s time to bring the computer nerd (c’est moi) into the conversation.