How we lost, and are still losing, the Integration Game

Integration – is a commonly used term in business.  It describes the, intuitively desirable, end-state that operations managers, CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CIO, maintenance managers and their teams, believe would make things better.  Here are some of their ‘If only items’:

If Only:

  • we did not have to re-enter our data into multiple systems;
  • we could see what we need to see without having to crunch the same numbers every week/month/year;
  • we were able to see email data linked with the equipment/person/project/WBS that it related to;
  • we could reduce the need for printing reports and wasting paper and use dashboards instead;
  • we would spend more time analyzing our data – rather than transferring or merging it;
  • I could leave the office for a week and know that all the info that the team needs is available to them;
  • our clients could see easily access weekly/monthly project reports based on what we have done;
  • our costs are based on what was ordered (committed) and received (incurred and earned)’
  • our time entry was linked to work done – automatically – with no additional coding;
  • tracking each change was as logical and as simple starting a new project

These are just some of the predictable, and often-stated, reasons for getting better integration.

The RealWorld Experience

A quick review of what companies have done during the last 20 years.  In a word,or rather, an acronym: ERP.  ERP (enterprise resource planning) and similar accounting and other corporate, ‘enterprise’ systems have pervaded the work place – mostly in larger corporations and government institutions – as they have the budgets to tolerate the huge costs involved.

A few regulatory shoves helped corporations move towards this pervasive use of ERPs – think Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in the US and Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) in Canada.

So, what did these expensive ERPs deliver to their stockholders and stakeholders? Another magic word: Governance.  Now, each company, agency or institution has a costly IT team (in-house plus contracted consultants) to govern the use of the data systems that hold corporate data.  This is an ongoing cost for resources to simply keep the system running, with minimal changes (due to the cost – yes, even more bucks) due to the onerous strictures of the governance entity.

Another single word describes the IT environment in these organizations today: gridlock.  You simply cannot get any changes made to the ERP so that you can get your day to day work accomplished efficiently.

So, what’s an avid worker bee to do? Thank Microsoft and Google!  The spreadsheet systems that they build are the workhorse of the modern office. The ability to use a spreadsheet is second-nature to all desk-bound people in organizations today.  Skill levels may vary – but spreadsheet use is ubiquitous.

So, in summary, Integration was pitched as a selling point when ERPs were sold, and now spreadsheet use has grown exponentially, with no sign of slowing down.  People who use these spreadsheets get mighty defensive of their multi-tabbed, formula-strewn, beautifully-formatted creations.  They each reflect the skill (or lack thereof) of their creators.  And therein lies the rub. To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s quote, with a nod to whoever wrote this timeless line:  A spreadsheet is like a box of chocolates – you don’t know what you are going to get.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Costly on-going ‘Governance’ has led to total control and static, passive data and processes within the ERP, while total chaos and anarchy reigns with data that is exported from the ERP and now lives in spreadsheets!

Does anyone else feel this strangeness in businesses today?

Do you feel that you and your organization need to achieve some of the ‘If Only’ items mentioned here? Do you think that the bottom-line benefits along with improved quality of work and adaptive use of data justifies looking for an improvement to the status quo?