I think people have forgotten what the I in IT means: information. When you put the I and the T together, people usually think about computers, servers, networking, and so on. For me, its about data, which is the information. And when you bring information and technology together, you have something powerful, something more than just making things run faster (of course newer computers, networking, Internet, do make things faster.) When I talk with clients and prospects during systems whiteboard strategy sessions, I usually start by asking this question, Where is the data? Usually, I find data in several places: in an accounting system, in a CRM system, in some type of Line of Business (LOB) system, and then of course, you have the spreadsheets.
This is where the danger lies for companies but also where some real opportunities can take shape.
Yes, we usually conduct a detailed whiteboard, complete with pictures, visio diagrams, etc. with some recommendations for improvements we call a Technology Roadmap, but for purposes of this article, lets just focus on the data that lies within the BIG 4:
- Accounting (makes sure you are making money and staying out of jail)
- CRM (now called XRM)
- LOB (applications usually specific to your industry)
- Spreadsheets (all the stuff you dont know where to put)
There are always improvements that can be made to any of these systems, but something everyone should perk up and start paying a lot of attention to is the duplication of effort by employees to maintain data accurately across the systems. Fortunately, most of the time, you can setup integration points between the systems, which we do a lot at Pinnacle; but more often than not, we find companies are paying people money to maintain data manually.
The risk here is inaccurate data which leads to reports that are inaccurate and that dont match across systems. IT departments cant control this because it is in the end users control. This is usually where the breakdown occurs and why companies fall into the spreadsheet abyss.
Spreadsheets have their place. I see them as good analytical tools for pivot tables, quick sorts, groups, graphs, and so on, but the data should be delivered TO the spreadsheets not maintained IN the spreadsheets. The systems we implement allow us to live link the spreadsheets and refresh on demand. This is a one way to securely pull the data and refresh the spreadsheet with the current data.
I could go on and on about this, but watching out for what is being entered into spreadsheets vs. pulled would be something I would keep my right eye on.
So what should you do? Below are just a few items to consider, but conducting a whiteboard session to layout where your data is would be the place I would start. I simply love doing that because its almost like going hunting or solving a mystery
Quick Technology Tips to get on your Technology Roadmap
- Discover where your data is we have a four step data discovery process we use
- Whiteboard (process map and diagram the interconnectivity of your systems
- Determine how open your systems data is and what kind of tools you may have
- Centralize your data into the BIG 3 (The BIG 4 minus the spreadsheets)
- Integrate across the BIG 3
Sounds easy right? If you dont feel comfortable doing this, hire someone to whiteboard your system for a day. It is a great investment because then you will know where the DATA is. Then you can rough in your plan to integrate your data, reduce duplication, and gain insight into your business through graphs, dashboards, key performance indicators, and business alerts. These tools will save you time and help you make accurate decisions about where the business is REALLY.