Scotty: She’s all yours, sir. All systems automated and ready. A chimpanzee and two trainees could run her!
Captain Kirk: Thank you, Mr. Scott. I’ll try not to take that personally.
— [STAR TREK]
Once upon a time, far away by the lands of the west, in a meeting room filled with business life…
Software Vendor: “. . . and THAT’S how all of your requirements will be met with our software. Thank you, thank you. Any questions?”
CEO: “Wow. What a wonderful presentation. I see that this covers everything! Where do I sign?”
CTO: “Wait! If I may…”, interrupts the up-and-coming-but-not-for-that-less-responsible CTO, “…Before we proceed with the paperwork signing and money exchange, I would like to ask this fine gentleman, which today has astounded us with this marvelous presentation of not snake oil, one final consultation. I’m eager to know, as being the person in charge of all the Technology related paraphernalia in our company, how does your software interfaces with our in-house made accounting system?”
Ah. Astute CTO. Always aware and on the lookout, tasked with selecting the right solution for the upcoming times. He’s no newbie. He’s been here before. He knows that one little misunderstanding, a little overlook, misconception, even a misspelled word, and he might face blowing off the next year’s company budget trying to make those pieces fit together.
That instead of launching the company into the future, he could be responsible for hurling it into its grave: the integration of its systems. Will it be its rise or its downfall? Oh, what a tragedy. To look back and see that what was intended to save the company, would mean to be it’s undoing. The times, oh boy, indeed they were a-changin’. . .
The sacredness of time
Man is ill-equipped to manage time. Time, however, is the most important resource in your personal and in your business’s life.
Traditionally, business theory teaches us that there are 3 basic resources: Capital, People and Time. Peter F. Drucker put’s it this way in The Effective Executive:
Capital: …We long ago should have learned that it is the demand for capital, rather than the supply thereof, which sets the limit to economic growth and activity…
People: …And regarding people, we can always hire people, even though good people are hard to find…
Time: …But for Time, no matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it, and it can’t be stored in any way. Yesterday time is gone and it will never come back.
On top of that, everything requires time, it is the true and only universal condition. All work takes time, uses time, requires time.
The best executives in the world go to great lengths to learn how to save their time so they can use it when it matters most, where it makes a difference.
There is a way to use systems to create pockets of time for everyone in the business. For the customer, employee, provider, manager, stakeholder, and for the most important person of all, you. . .
On-time information is on demand. On-time information has become a key component of our everyday decisions. On-time information saves time. Loads of it.
If you design your systems so that they’re able to communicate between each other, and you present a simple interface that allows different types of users to consume from them, you’ll be saving those users some of that precious time that they, just as well as you do, value so highly. By saving those user’s time, you’ll be making them happier. By making them happier you’ll attract new users. And by attracting new users you’ll be getting new sources of income. Yeah! Transitive relation FTW!: by saving time, you’re not only saving money, but you’re also getting new money. Money that wasn’t part of your plan in the first place.
But of course, it never is that simple. Quite the opposite in fact. So opposite that companies, like the one our CEO and CTO from the beginning, are responsible for, are often very wary of them, no matter how safe or how much will they increase in efficiency, effectiveness, market share, revenue, etc. They submit, eventually, for the times are indeed changin’, but usually very slowly and not without its heavy resistance, pains, casualties…
My two tips:
Tip 1: Measure first. This is why I recommend that, before investing in an integration project, measure the time currently used, and estimate how much time will you save along with all the additional benefits. I have used this tool to get me started in the past.
Tip 2: Aim for effectiveness. What is the one question that if answered faster would solve many problems at once, for most people in the company? Identify and focus on the top 3. Done not try to tackle 10 unarticulated data problems. You won’t solve them. Instead, you will create a 7 headed beast that will breathe down your neck every night at bedtime. It will burn money, people, and most importantly, time.
I must say: It feels incredibly satisfying when you do your first integration and then measures your first return on the investment
The Challange: Scattered information
Having updated data is a big challenge for business. A startup begins collecting data from all kinds of sources, but as it grows, those sources get more and more independent. More siloed if I may. Suddenly, all the data is kept in a bunch of excel sheets, an ERP, the brand new accounting system, some mainframe in the basement, a Silicon Graphics workstation that your rich cousin Lloyd gave to you as Christmas gift ’cause these were really going to pick up that year. Alas, there was no forethought, and now keeping them all up to date, pose a major challenge.
If you own the company, or you fill a top role, you might feel trapped and guilty about this situation. But let me reassure you. No reason to feel bad. This is the norm, not the exception. Just ask any banks of the developed world to see if they run COBOL. Freakin’ COBOL. Designed by Gace Hopper, the same women that created the first compiler. When COBOL was invented, just to give you an idea, humanity was still ten years away to put a step on the moon.
So, you had no idea your company was going to grow so much. It is time, however, to do something about it, and you need a plan.
Each company has its own set of variables, the stuff that makes it unique, it’s own context. As much as we would love to have it, a one size ts all solution does not exist. There is, however, a concept that I’ve personally found to be very useful when dealing with system integrations. It’s always there but not with its same face. I think this concept might help anyone facing this challenge nowadays in the right direction.
MDM. Master Data Management.
What is MDM and why, for the love of God, are we talking about it?
Lemme start by saying that Master Data is as a concept that I think you should now and forever keep in your head: it’s the flour in every cake, the ice in every summer’s drink, the bread in every burger. It’s the core ingredient for any systems integrations to be called systems integrations.
Ok. First, I’ll give you the formal, very technical concept, and I’ll break it down later:
Master Data is the consistent and uniform set of identifiers and extended attributes that describes the core entities (product, customer, etc…) of the enterprise — Source gartner.com
If our entity is the product, then the goal is to create a unique reference that holds all the other references of the other products.
You might have stock information, price information, marketing information, and so on different sources, each of them is represented in the above image as a database source.
Well, the idea is that with the MDM you would be able to provide access to all your users to all of that updated information at an instant, each with their own perspectives and interests. Pretty neat I would say. Definitely a more organized and clean way of storing, handling and offering your data.
Here is an example with another entity, the Customers Entity:
In the above example, the Code column in the table represents the Master Data Identifier, which can be used as a reference to tie together the same person in the other systems.
Attaining Master Data in 3 steps
Here is a simplified list to acquire MDM. You need to:
- Store the Information in systems: For the information to be on time, it must be owned, for it to be owned it must be on some type of system. Each time the information is updated, it must be updated directly on the system.
- Allow the flow of information flow: Once the information is constantly being updated on a system, each product will have a unique identifier in that system. Now you can set the system to connect to the central system.
- Match the identifiers to create MD (Master Data): Using a combination of fuzzy matching techniques and with the cooperation of knowledgeable personnel, assign all of the products its Master Number. Big words, but no big deal.
Let’s say you are a perfume bottle distributor and the Boston Round 1oz 20/400 bottle comes in 2 different boxes: One of 360 units per box, and one of 240 units per box, and is available in 2 warehouses, one in Florida and one in New Jersey. The matching process relate all these different SKU’s or Id’s in these systems to one Master Data Id, and. .. once assigned, you won’t ever need to relate them again.
Now you can create views and applications that show the customer information they need to make their decision (the picture of the product, origin information or availability…) and show the salesman the cost, suggested price, estimate time of delivery according to size order, and any information useful at the sales pitch moment.
Finding the middle ground: Custom vs Off The Shelf Software
“The vision always precedes and itself determines the realization.”
– Lillian Whiting
Now, before feeling overwhelmed about the challenge at hand, know this.
You can reap the benefits of integrations, of becoming “digital” one small step at the time. You do not need to invest in a 3-year project now, just commit to 3 months, do a small integration, enjoy the returns of your investment, and afterward put the next brick.
As with everything worthwhile and like my man Goethe said, Ohne Hast; aber ohne Rast. Slowly but uninterrupted.
This is safer and paradoxically a faster way to become digital. It creates a habit around development and decision making, and habits, my friend, in the face of changing times, bring tangible results.
Buyers beware: Software Vendors are more than anything interested in selling their software. Not integrating it. That’s your problem, don’t ask me… Most commercial offers from the companies that I’ve talked to for Product Information Management software do not include the integration itself to the systems in the company. They redirect you to integrators that they know, who at the end of the day, are going to be much more important in your company and your systems that the software you’re buying. And many will not tell you this clearly but only at the very end of the selling pitch.
I hoped I was of any help!
I leave you with some data and facts in case you are interested. I do have a part 2 draft with more technical detail, let me know in the comments if someone out there is interested and I will work on it for you.
Finally, I do hope that you enjoy your time today 🙂
Market Facts: Systems Integrations, an increasing focal point for businesses
Here are some facts I pulled out from some research I did in 2017 that might hopefully prompt you to take some kind of action in a direction that is right for you:
- Experiences in the B2C world increase B2B purchases, almost 75% say that buying from a web page is more convenient than buying to sales representatives when they buy products or services for work. -Source: PIM Is A Cornerstone Of Your Digital Business Why Customer-Obsessed Firms Need Product Information Management January 18, 2017
- InRiver, one of the leading PIM vendors, claims that they have an annual growth rate (CAGR) of %70. I did check other vendors’ data, and all of them have grown big time.
- 87% of data leaders and analysts implemented or are planning to implement or expand on PIM (Software Integration for Products). Why? Managing spreadsheets and separated systems is not sustainable. To save time, minimize errors, increase the time to market, and manage constantly changing requirements content for allies, digital business needs automated checks — Source: Vendor Landscape: Product Information Management (PIM), Q3 2017
- In 2015, a %67 of decision-makers related to infrastructure said that develop a complete strategy in the cloud was a high or critical priority. Additionally, %56 projected an increase in investment in cloud services by the end of 2015. — Source: The Forrester WaveTM: Master Data Management, Q1 2016