Flexible IT systems: building systems that can overlap across functions
Flexible IT systems: we’ve all heard that claim from vendors, haven’t we? I’m sure that we have all tried the modular approach, especially those of us that have implemented ERP systems.
Not many have come out of these projects with their sanity still attached – with many vowing never to try it again – but I believe that you can and should think about implementing flexible IT systems even at the SME level.
Gone are the days of needing dedicated servers for each application (secure data withstanding), so the costs and technology are now lower and better than ever before, especially if you look at cloud or other hosted systems.
Draw out your enterprise architecture (EA) and see what systems you are running, and how many of them overlap with other functions without some funky macro or batch file that somebody has to manually run every day to share the data between two disparate systems – or you have the dreaded managed spreadsheet that contains the links between the unique identifiers of each system.
There are certain core systems such as finance that require particular features to operate for legal and reporting reasons but that shouldn’t hold you back.
It’s obviously difficult and expensive to think about purchasing new systems or services but proprietary systems are just as costly to run when you take in to account the total cost of ownership, specialist maintenance and time, etc.
Just imagine if you had a system with a clear upgrade path without relying on one person at an unnamed support company who is able to help you manage any type of changes to your proprietary systems – but only if the wind is blowing in the right direction and they are wearing their lucky shirt….
Upgradability gives you new features, processes and – above all – the chance to go to your business with the increased ability to foster innovation.
No more, “we cant do that with x system” etc. but now more, “how can we help you” or “let’s have a crack at solving that issue you’ve been talking to me about for months”.
Feels good doesn’t it? And you will be able to back it up and restore it if necessary – or even better not have to scour backup logs every day if it’s a hosted system.
Once you get in to the realm of a new system(s) being a possibility, draw out your EA again – but this time focus on overlap and where you think one system feature could benefit another or multiple functions.
This will open up a whole new way of thinking and should really concentrate your mind on the needs of the business and how it intertwines rather than just opting for one generic system in each function and getting ready to write your batch files and macros.
I know what you’ll be thinking – this guy has lost it – but think about it and try it for yourselves. CRM obviously covers sales, marketing and customer interaction and if you look at what companies such as Salesforce.com are doing with building one platform that shares data natively across it – it is an interesting perspective.
The old adage of “most people only use 30% of Microsoft Office features” should also apply when designing your EA – do you really need such bloated core systems when something smaller, leaner and more agile will do? Could you spend less money on one of these bloated systems and thus have greater funds to move to a more efficient EA platform that provides overlap across functions?
Remember, it’s the data that you capture and how you use it that is powerful and not the name of the system that you used to get it – making sure that you capture the right data is the key to how all of this knits together.