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Businesses today use an array of software systems for different jobs. These are brilliant tools that give unprecedented benefits. The only problem is that in many businesses each system operates separately, generating inefficiencies, errors and poor service.
Consider a typical sales team. An enquiry from a potential new customer arrives via an Outlook email system. The team shift the details across into the shared Google spreadsheets they use to keep track of sales activities, enquiries, leads and new customers. Being able to share access to a single spreadsheet feels quite organised. However, the team schedule their meetings using a shared Microsoft calendar. When a job gets booked in, the operations team use a fourth system to order parts and manage the work. Once the job is finished, invoicing is handled using a fifth system, Sage.
It all feels very digital and efficient. Except it isn’t. At every stage the details of the client and the job have to be moved manually from one system to another. From an email to the spreadsheet. From the spreadsheet to the calendar. From the calendar to the job tracking system. From the job tracking system to Sage.
Or think of a business that sells products online. Its beautiful new website runs on Shopify and stores the descriptions, photographs and specifications of hundreds of product lines, along with data about their stock numbers, lead times and so on. But when an order comes from a customer, it arrives by email and one of the online team has to update the orders spreadsheet. The warehouse read the orders off the spreadsheet, then book the order on to the stock management system. They pick the stock, package it up, then key the details in to a courier’s system to get a despatch label. And, of course, none of these systems is connected to the business’s Xero accounting system.
Thousands of businesses across the UK work like this. It’s disconnected, disjointed and ripe for error. It’s highly inefficient. Perhaps worse, it makes it very difficult to track workflows and understand what it costs to do a job. Important management data is lost. You’re operating in the dark. Worst of all, your customer experience is compromised. Orders get lost or missed. Stock levels on the website don’t match actual stock in the warehouse, creating long delays and unfulfilled orders. And the real killer is that you have to employ more customer service people to manage the mess.
Instead imagine this. Someone fills in an enquiry form on your website, and within seconds there’s a prospect record in your FileMaker database, a new entry in your Mailchimp mailing list, and a slot in this afternoon’s Google calendar for a member of your sales team to give them a call. When this person becomes a customer, their details move seamlessly to the operations team and at each stage of the work the details are updated, tracking progress. Later the details go to the accounts team along with a record of all the work done and details of parts that were needed.
Months later if there’s an issue with the job, that record of activity can be instantly accessed and reviewed. There’s no doubt or uncertainty, only clarity and accuracy.
What’s more, the data can be aggregated with other workflow data from other customers to calculate how long a particular type of job takes, who is involved and for how long. In other words, this information means that making a profit on the work you do is no longer guesswork.
A business software system like this is your central nervous system that integrates multiple specialist subsystems: Sage or Xero for accounting, Shopify or Magento for your ecommerce website, your Outlook or Google calendars. But the scope can go way further. You can also hook up specialist software used in specific industries – for example warehouse management systems, or the software that controls ovens, saws or CNC milling machines.
Similarly, external systems can be integrated too, like the websites you contact to arrange deliveries. In essence, if it has an API it can talk to a FileMaker based business system, and vice versa.
The great benefit of an integrated system is that you can continue using the specialist software systems that do such a vital job, but they become one part of a single super-system that runs the length and breadth of your business, making all activities visible as part of a single overarching workflow. The potential benefits run from greatly improved operational efficiency to far better management reporting which, when applied intelligently, drives profitability and growth.
Increasingly the businesses we work with at Decent Group realise that this integration is what they need now. They see it as the next step in an evolution that began with using software to make specific processes more efficient. But now those isolated software systems are introducing their own inefficiencies. Integration — with the super-system at its heart — is the obvious and necessary solution.