Systems Integrators Can Make Connected Enterprises a Reality


By Giovanni Spiteri

It's no secret that companies need to integrate systems to fully take advantage of the proliferation of customer data across the enterprise—including data from CRM, ERP, marketing automation and more.

Unfortunately, according to Scribe’s annual State of Data Integration study, to date, only 16 percent of businesses report full integration between customer-facing systems, despite the fact that at least 70 percent of companies ranked integration between CRM, business intelligence, customer service, marketing and ERP systems as important.

The lack of integration is causing significant problems. In an Oracle-commissioned study, integration challenges caused 54 percent of businesses surveyed to experience staff downtime, and 54 percent to miss important deadlines.

The best customer experience necessitates organization-wide access to a 360-degree view of the customer, but unfortunately, most businesses lack that central collective intelligence. The data tends to be siloed within departments, which makes it close to impossible to deliver the optimal customer experience. This is why more businesses are bringing on systems integrators to help improve their levels of integration, which in 2013 saw a 14 percent increase from 2012.

To move toward a connected enterprise, companies first must gain a core understanding of the value proposition behind making data easily accessible. Systems integrators help companies understand the strategic reason for integration before jumping to the tactical components.

Integration: Not About IT or Data

Even with the right intentions, businesses run into problems that derail integration initiatives, both before and during the project. These problems most often stem from company leadership thinking of integration as an IT or data problem, when it’s really a problem of understanding the business. Successful integration requires looking at how businesses are aiming to engage the customer, using technology as a tool rather than the end goal.

Taking incremental steps to make the connected enterprise a reality: Companies planning on connecting their systems should start by working on a few distinct problems, prioritizing the most immediate needs and focusing on three key considerations:

--How can the business deliver value in three- to six-month increments to ensure consistent movement?

--What integration initiatives will drive the most value in the shortest time frame?

--Where can the business drive innovation?

With these three questions in mind, businesses can first prioritize and evaluate projects in shorter increments to ensure they reach their goals efficiently.

Prioritizing customer data: Businesses should always focus on the end goal, which for integration projects means giving customer-facing departments like marketing, sales and service better and faster access to customer data. They must prioritize what data to integrate based on which data will have the biggest impact on driving loyalty and engagement. By looking at integration through that lens, companies can focus on integrating the customer data to drive the bottom line, without overdoing it and distracting users with an overabundance of information.

Embracing Innovation: Lastly, the best business leaders ask themselves: How can I embrace the need for innovation and scale? This ensures the business elevates operations from tactical to strategic, incorporating much-needed innovation into the framework of the project.

The Systems Integrator's Role

Beyond following the incremental steps above, systems integrators can play a key role in greatly improving the speed and reducing the total cost of integration projects, on both the strategic and tactical levels.

Strategic Perspective: To enable this strategic value, systems integrators are adept at creating a climate where their success is tied at the hip with their clients', embedding themselves within the client culture. The higher-level discussions begin when the systems integrator jump-starts the necessary conversations to help businesses understand their underlying goals before forming an integration strategy. The outcome? A more targeted integration initiative in which unneeded integration and software expenses can be stripped before the implementation phase, saving money and resource hours.

Tactical Perspective: From an IT and execution-based perspective, systems integrators can scale up or down to support the demands and lifecycles that IT, and businesses, go through. Additionally, they bring experience and best practices to lower costs through more efficient use of resources.

Many systems integrators use third-party integration platforms to easily create connectors they can quickly adapt for new customers, enabling solutions to be developed more quickly and cost effectively than would be possible if building them from scratch. Today’s data integration platforms enable systems integrators to cost effectively build the integration once and then reuse it many times.

A Holistic Approach to a Connected Enterprise

The best systems integrators help companies achieve integration benefits catered to each of their critical departments. For example, for a chief operating officer (COO) responsible for operations, successful integration enables a smarter internal enterprise, while for a chief marketing officer (CMO), it enables better external information. Systems integrators help create a connected enterprise with actionable data across the company, allowing COOs to improve their decisions about internal personnel and processes, and CMOs to act on business analytics and drive the customer experience with a closed-loop feedback process.

While companies have the ability to engage in these initiatives alone, systems integrators drive much higher success rates with lower associated costs and more valuable outcomes. Businesses that involve systems integrators experience systems connectivity rates two to four times higher than those tackling integration on their own. This means that integration projects completed with their help are better targeted at specific business needs, ensuring the connected enterprise is realized faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively than possible by going it alone.

Giovanni Spiteri is the customer engagement practice lead for Slalom Consulting, a business and technology consulting firm that delivers solutions through a national network in North America. He manages a team that helps organizations implement customer-focused solutions.

This article was originally published on 2014-03-04