For the past few months, I’ve been writing about ways business leaders can build technology solutions that will help their business blossom. Last month we covered customization, which is where an off-the-shelf solution like QuickBooks is tweaked to meet specific needs. This month we’re diving into how integrating multiple systems can help your business.
Integration is “the act of combining multiple parts or components into a whole.” Integration is when we take multiple, disconnected components and combine them in a manner that produces a cohesive result. It is not using multiple tools and then manually sorting out the results later. Integration, rather, is where we choose and utilize services that are made to “talk to each other” so that they operate as a single unit rather than disconnected components.
In my business, we carefully manage projects and the work that goes into them. It’s important for us to properly scope projects, keep them on budget, and track associated time and expenses. Not long ago we had separate tools for each task – Word, Outlook, Excel, and a time-tracker, just to name a few. As our business has grown, we’ve chosen different tools that are made to communicate with each other and streamline these tasks. Now, when a task is defined, it goes into a web-based management tool which links to our time tracking tool, which then pushes data over to invoicing workbooks each month so we can effectively settle up with our clients.
Integrating software can be an intimidating objective and an ongoing endeavor. While we are still using off-the-shelf software tools rather than building something from scratch, we are counting on these various components and the organizations behind them to continue playing nice with the other systems in play. If one company decides to stop supporting an integration, things can quickly fall apart. Conversely, as cloud services continue to appear, more opportunities to make the team effective and the business profitable quickly become available.
Is integration right for your business? I believe the answer is a resounding YES. You are probably already integrating software without even knowing it. If you use an email service such as Google and Microsoft Outlook for reading your email, you’re already integrating tools provided by two of the largest technology providers in the world! There are boundless opportunities to integrate tools involved in project management, time tracking, bookkeeping, and customer relationship management. The trick is choosing well, integrating effectively, and always keeping an eye out for the next opportunity or looming storm on the horizon.
Partnering with a solid technology firm becomes extremely useful as you move from customizing software to integrating multiple tools. While you may be able to do much of this work on your own, setting up cloud services to communicate with each other and resources you may house on-site can be a daunting task, and I recommend treading into these waters with a trusted partner.
Next month we’ll conclude this series with an article on coding from scratch, where you take your unique idea and bring it to life. Stay with us as we continue this journey, and I look forward to hearing about your own integration successes!
For publication in the Business Leader
By Chet Cromer