Ever since Simon Sinek, everyone wants to know about your WHY. As we explained in our Founder story, we didn’t grow up as aspiring system integrators.
But what underpins our Founder story, the ‘root’ level WHY if you will, is the desire to solve real problems for customers and add value to the associated organisations, their customers and their staff.
In this blog post, we chunk it up a level, and discuss the WHY of integrations at a practical level. In line with our why, integrations certainly fall into the category of having the potential to alleviate big customer problems and create huge value. However, as with anything, it can be hard to know where to start, if you don’t think about integrations all day, like we do.
Why would you bother to integrate two applications? It is hard to know where to begin. In particular, because today’s IT landscape is so complex, and ‘hidden’. Mostly, the applications we use are accessed through a trusted device (phone, laptop, maybe still a desktop although rare), via a web interface. We often don’t realise we are working with a multitude of applications, due to the wonders of Single Sign On. The cloud removes us even further from the physical side of IT, allowing it to be present in every aspect of our life, elusively, as we don’t see IT physically anymore. Other than said trusted device.
Most importantly, the core question of whether to integrate or not to integrate ultimately comes down to whether or not the integration is worth the investment. The following client story gives some pointers on how you might identify worthwhile use cases in practice, and further in this blog, we share a more comprehensive framework with you.
True client story
“In a recent project, we are in a transitional phase, where information needs to be manually copied over between two key applications very frequently. I am charged with executing this, and every time I commence this work, I slowly enter into a trance-like state. After a while, I feel like I am going through the motions, on autopilot.
I start day-dreaming, and in my dreams, a big sign with neon flashing letters pops up. I can’t make out what it says just yet, but keep moving towards it. When I can finally read it, I see:
“Surely there must be a better way!!”. Can you help us evaluate whether there is?”
Purpose: what should be achieved via integrations?
In our work of integrating applications, the purpose is not to just connect two stand-alone applications as such. The purpose is to facilitate organisational processes. There are numerous reasons why it is a good thing to integrate applications to better enable organisational processes, and they broadly fall into the following categories:
- Saving time, manual/repetitive work, or gaining other efficiencies: a process that is executed frequently, and consists of ‘standard’ process steps, is a great candidate for automation. By integrating applications and no longer performing certain tasks manually, the process activities can be executed faster, and also more often where this is beneficial. This means staff members that carry out this process have time to spend on higher value activities - increasing the value your organisation drives for your customers!
- Reduce errors or issues: chips fall where work is done. Human error happens, in particular in processes that involve lots of data and repetition. And certain processes are more critical than others, in terms of the downstream consequences like reputational damage or adverse financial impact an error has. So as to mitigate risks and create predictable process output, automation can be invaluable. Automated processes are predictable, and even if there are input data quality issues, a well orchestrated automation process will pick these up and let you know.
- Integrations of different processes: collaboration occurs everywhere. Between different departments and even externally, between different organisations. To facilitate these separate processes, knowing what data can be shared, and sharing this in a secure manner (in particular between multiple legal entities) can make collaboration so much easier and safer. It keeps everyone up to date with the right amount of information, whilst bolstering the security posture of each organisation involved - if executed well.
Triggers for integrations
We understand not everyone is like us - working full time on integration matters. We appreciate that everyone’s life is busy. Between home schooling, demanding jobs, family life and hobbies there is little time or desire left to take a step back and ponder whether there is a better way (unless you are the person day-dreaming about the aforementioned neon-sign). We are impressed that you are here, reading our blog!
However from our experience, there are certain moments that trigger the need for integrations, based on our client experience:
- An implementation project of a new application or process: this is the ideal moment to discuss enhancements to processes and systems, which is what integrations effectively are. Since there is ongoing work in defining system and process requirements anyway, it’s easy to have conversations about process automation and optimisation, and new ways of working more broadly. It is also a natural moment to discuss the required or desired application integrations for the new system or process.
- Optimising processes: working cheaper, more efficiently and faster is a common challenge for all organisations. Even at a personal level, we become increasingly demanding in this respect. Whether it is to do with automated tax returns, or backing up photos or other media, everyone aims to complete routine tasks like these ever more efficiently. At the end of the day, saving time on routine tasks means we get to spend more time on things we actually care about. The rise in popularity of business process improvement / operating methods, such as LEAN, Scrum en Agile is therefore no surprise. They are of great assistance when analysing how to work cheaper, more efficiently and faster - as are integrations, to operationalise some of the process automation.
- Innovation: innovation has been a popular term these last years, to work on better products or services. In setting these new products and services up for success, integrations can play a key role.
Framework for spotting a great integration opportunity
So now back to our million dollar question, or questions, as you can see below.
The integration needs to have a good return on investment, and in our experience, these questions will assist in making this assessment easy:
Is the process suitable for automation? [Yes/No]
- Does the process have standard/defined steps?
- Are those steps repetitive in nature?
Would an integration save time and/or money? [Yes/No]
- How much time does your staff currently spend on the process?
- Can this time be spent on higher value-add activities?
Do process errors have a large and undesirable impact? [Yes/No]
- What is the risk - likelihood of a human error in this process?
- What would be the impact if the risk eventuated? Money, but also intangible effects such as reputational damage should be considered.
Does the integration add value to the business process? [Yes/No]
- Does the integration increase happiness for customers or staff?
- How many customers and/or staff would benefit from the integration?
- Would the integration contribute to achieving more sales, reduce expenses, or increase customer satisfaction?
Should you have answered a minimum of two of the above questions with ‘yes’, we recommend you consider the integration further. In our experience, there are never any regrets for a quality integration!
The writer lives on...
One final tip for this blog, is to note down your ideas. It is pretty much a tip that applies to your whole life, however most certainly one that applies to integrations.
Chances are, you are at a premature time to discuss integrations when the idea for an integration first pops up. So having any conversations now, is probably a waste of time. But in a few months the situation could be totally different.
We recognise this from our own sales cycle. Regularly, we get in touch with future customers at a relatively early stage. This doesn’t disappoint us at all, if anything we see this as an opportunity! We love having ‘Blue Sky’ conversations with these early stage customers, and are happy to pause the conversation for as long as necessary. Obviously, we add the idea to our own notebook, and schedule ourselves a reminder to pick up the thread of the conversation when the time is right: this could be months, or even years down the track. We don’t mind, we are in it for the long haul and to create value for our customers.
Should you have any ideas floating around in your head - even if you haven’t started your project, business or other venture just yet, we would be happy to add your thoughts to our Harmonizer notebook! And buy you coffee. Coffee is always on us!
For now, thanks for your attention, and for reading this blog post all the way through to the end!
*Image by djedj from Pixabay