Integrating My Business: It’s all about Communications

In our last blog we discussed how functionally organized IT systems break up a business’ process flows, and worse: these breaks often happen right where the actual work gets done! OK you say — the work had to be done anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Well it can be quite a big deal. Let’s look at what we have just done to the people in the process:

  1. We have added to their daily grind the workload of transacting information out of one system and into the other. In my experience, IT system vendors don’t think a lot about process and certainly don’t know yours! Getting the information you need from one system and entering it into another is often a painful journey from screen to screen and back again, from one system to the other, until all the bits and pieces have been found and tucked in their proper places.
  2. We have made sure that a person has to touch every single piece of work because they all have to be entered in the almighty IT system. Now I am a strong believer in having a “single, complete version of the truth” in your core IT systems: it gives control visibility and traceability, which is critical to business and is what these systems are designed for. Like all good things, it doesn’t come free!
  3. Finally, who have we placed this burden on? Well, since we want the best decisions to be made in every case, often all this extra work — “water-carrying”, pure and simple — is routed to our most expert, valuable employees!

So unwittingly, we have set up a system where we route every task to our most valuable employees whether or not it requires their expertise, and have loaded on top of that a lot of data entry and transfer to reduce their effectiveness even more. We have mired the people with the greatest potential to grow the business in drudgery and routine! Unlikely? Unfortunately this is a pattern I have seen repeated in business after business.

What can be done? Luckily the solution is quite straightforward:

  1. As I suggested in the first blog in this series, think of your business as a system. What information needs to get from where to where, and what has to happen to it on the way? If you have the good fortune to be selecting new systems, make sure they are capable of performing these functions. If not, a targeted investment in integrating existing systems can yield significant returns.
  2. Remember the Pareto Principal? 20% of your tasks will require 80% of your expertise. The other 80% can be handled routinely by junior staff, or even better, automated rules. Design your processes so that tasks flow by default through this ‘routine’ channel, but are visible to your experts at all times so that they can intervene when necessary, but only when necessary.
  3. Make the computer do the communication! There is no good business reason to have your leading expert — or anyone — hand carry a file around the office just because they were the last person to work on it. Computers are good at this sort of thing: let them do it! Surprisingly powerful communication and co-ordination tools are easy to set up quickly and for a very modest investment. The barrier is more often in peoples’ heads than in the technology!

That’s it for this series of blogs. Thanks for joining me on this journey of fully Integrating “Your” Business!