“There’s an app for that.”
That 2009 iPhone slogan became so popular that Apple trademarked the catchphrase the following year.
People quickly grew to believe that anytime they faced a unique challenge at work or play, all they needed to do was download yet another app. Technology offered a seemingly endless supply of remedies to business and personal challenges. The way to meet needs was technology accumulation.
But this app accumulation came at a huge cost to businesses.
Businesses ended up with data sources stored in multiple, disparate silos scattered across the enterprise.
Information created in spreadsheets, emails, Word documents, chat applications, and other “productivity apps” was unstructured across multiple data warehouses and impossible to use strategically.
There was no single source of truth (SSOT). As a result, worker productivity dropped. Costs increased. Profit margins shrank.
Today, business leaders are discovering that the path to efficient business operations is not more technology, but less. The route to improved worker productivity is not more apps, but fewer.
The way to optimize teamwork is not app creep, but app consolidation.
If you want to manage your IT solutions and streamline your business operations for maximum efficiency, start by consolidating your technology. Aim to achieve a single source of truth.
Follow these 4 steps to get started:
Step 1: Document Your Workstreams
Your first order of business in consolidating your technology isn’t technical at all — it’s understanding your workstreams.
Grab a basic flow-charting tool (pen and paper or a whiteboard will work just as well), gather your team, and walk through the multiple workstreams you engage in.
For example, when a customer wants to buy a product from your company, what steps take place?
Document the workstream by answering questions like:
- How does the buyer contact your company?
- Who do they talk to?
- What does that person do with the information?
- How does that information get turned into a quote?
- How does that quote get turned into an opportunity to track from a sales perspective?
- How does that quote get signed and become a sales order?
- How does that sales order become a purchase order to buy from a third party?
- Once the purchase order is open, how does the product get received against it?
- Once the product is received and delivered to the client, how is that invoiced?
- How does the client make a payment to your business?
Walking through this basic workstream, you’ll find all the silos that exist within your organization.
Likely, your team will discover your typical business process involves too many people, too many applications, and too much re-keying of the same data into multiple systems — ending with data eventually being duplicated and not synchronized in too many places.
Read the Blog: 6 Outlook Tips and Tricks for Today's Productive Workplace
Step 2: Audit Your IT Systems
Once you have a clear picture of every step involved in completing a given task or a given business process, identify the applications and IT systems that are required at each stage.
Document the data that’s collected at each step, who touches that data, when they do so, and how.
Look for data silos and overlap or redundancy of information between departments (including suppliers), silos, and systems.
Your goal is to uncover inefficiencies and unnecessary steps.
For example, if a salesperson documents phone orders in a spreadsheet before handing them off to another department to be entered again into your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, that means two people are entering the same data into two systems. Can these two processes be consolidated so only one person (the sales rep) enters the order only one time into one system (the ERP)?
Step 3: Consolidate Your IT Systems
Aim to consolidate your disparate systems so you store all information in a single source of truth. What you’re looking for is one, fully integrated set of systems that let you capture and maintain information and run reports on that information over time.
Here’s what this looks like in real life:
You’re likely working in a world where it’s commonplace to solve business challenges on the fly with unstructured data. For example, an employee says, “I've got to fix this situation or improve this process. Let me go ahead and use a spreadsheet or email or Microsoft Teams chats to deal with this.”
The employee either resolves the situation or feels like they've engaged in the process. But all the data they leave behind is unstructured. It provides little value going forward, because getting access to it again in the future requires somebody with tribal knowledge. They must return to that information (spreadsheets, emails, chat sessions), knowing where it is and already understanding how it relates to other information.
And if that team member falls ill or is on vacation and unreachable, then what? Nobody else has that knowledge … or any way of accessing it.
The solution is systems consolidation.
Savvy organizations are moving toward never using spreadsheets and email and Teams in this way to handle workstream-based activity. Instead, they’re consolidating their workstreams into as few systems as possible (a Customer Relationship Management system, for example).
These systems are integrated so that, once data is collected, it moves through the system without ever having to be created again.
Step 4: Manage the ChangeConsolidating technology to streamline business processes is a people challenge as much as it is a technology challenge. As such, people change management is a big component of your success.
The key is to include your people in the change right from the get-go. Set clear expectations. Get buy-in at every level. Make your people responsible for making the change in the data management system, and they’ll become the owners of the change.
Sometimes this requires hiring third parties to come in and talk best practices with you.
Other times it involves bringing in technical experts to reconfigure your systems on your behalf.
Either way, make your people co-pilots in the process: They know how they like to work, and will appreciate being empowered in the evolution of those processes. They will also appreciate early and frequent training and communication, so nobody feels left behind by the change.
Related Reading: The Modern Workplace: How to Harness the Power of Microsoft 365 Apps
To consolidate your IT systems, you must work with your people to resist adding yet more apps, tools, platforms, devices, peripherals, cloud services, applications, and other technology.
The path to productivity is having as few systems as possible, all integrated so they deliver only one source of truth.
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