Resource type: Blog
Streamlining your business processes – Integration of digital systems unlocks capacity and delivers efficiency
The role of systems integration is to get all of your software systems and business applications – the ones you have in the cloud and any legacy software you have installed on servers in your office – working together. And this becomes increasingly important with superfast broadband making it ever easier to access a range of online solutions for addressing your business needs, be they accounting, inventory, payments, CRM or point-of-sale. However, you’re really not exploiting such solutions to their full potential if they’re all running as ‘islands of information’ with little or no interaction between them.
The following scenario is an example of systems integration in action. Your IT systems working together to streamline internal processes and provide the customer with an enhanced level of service.
A new customer has just bought a product from your online shop. ‘Behind the scenes’ your back-office systems kick in and the information they have input is used to automatically generate an invoice which is sent out via email, whilst a text message is sent to their phone indicating when to expect delivery of the product. In addition, the stock levels of the product are automatically updated, and if they fall below a certain level the system will trigger a re-order from your manufacturer. Elsewhere the customer’s details are entered into a CRM system which will track their purchasing habits and enable you to target them in the future with special offers for other products that may be of interest.
The benefits of systems integration
Some of the main benefits of getting systems integration right and enabling your IT systems to exchange information include:
Increasing productivity – enabling different systems to work together can deliver significant productivity benefits, with employees no longer having to manually input the same data into separate programs
Streamlining processes – integration can result in greater efficiency by helping to eliminate manual processes, enhance existing IT processes or add value through new features
Improving management information – it is much easier to gain an up-to-date overview of how your business is performing if you only have to query one system rather than several
Cost savings – integration can significantly reduce the cost and time involved in maintaining and updating several systems
And integration does not only save you time and money. In freeing you up from much of your day-to-day administrative work it will provide you with the opportunity to focus on real added-value activities such as identifying new business partners or developing new revenue generating streams.
The first steps to integration
So, think about the opportunities for integrating your IT systems both now and in the future. What are the potential benefits of enabling your key business software apps to exchange data, from not only an internal perspective but also in terms of improved customer service and enhanced links with your trading partners?
A good start point is a technique known as business process mapping. This helps to identify the key steps in your main processes from start to finish and establish the key data that is required for them to work together effectively. In turn it will allow you to begin identifying and eliminating waste, streamlining business flows and establishing the primary opportunities for system integration.
Having identified the opportunities, the challenge is then to identify the IT solution(s) that will allow for the necessary levels of integration.
How is it achieved?
The most common means of integrating systems today is through an Application Programming Interface (API). Essentially this is a tool, or library, that assists developers in writing code which interfaces with other software.
Many software providers increasingly use open APIs, which they make available free of charge in order to encourage other providers to link their products, so creating a wider range of offerings for their customers. This approach has certainly taken-off in the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) world where many of the leading business apps come with integrated offerings already in place for other complementary products, so it’s well worth checking what’s available before making a selection.
Other specialist integrators offer customised solutions, an approach that’s often used when there’s a requirement to integrate legacy systems with cloud-based services
There’s one final reason why system integration should be at the forefront of your IT planning. Increasingly, in this interconnected world, customers are expecting the joined-up levels of service that we outlined in our opening paragraph. And if your systems aren’t capable of providing such service, you can bet that a competitor will be all too ready to step in…
How Superfast Business Cornwall can help
Superfast Business Cornwall is a service for small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) that aims to boost business competitiveness through increased understanding and exploitation of digital technology. Businesses in Cornwall can access an in-depth guide to streamlining business processes in the Superfast Business Cornwall Knowledge Bank at: www.sfbcornwall.co.uk/knowledge-bank