Strategic Integration: 10 Business-Building Tips

    Given the recession, it's a safe bet that the focus will be on cost cutting for some time to come. But the smart money will also be on creating more business value with what remains.

    To do that, you're going to need to think strategically, even when you are dealing with integration. That can be a bit tricky, since integration is often treated as a “have to do” on the road to accomplishing something else.

    But integration can be very strategic. To prove it, Loraine Lawson has compiled 10 ways that companies can use integration and integration-related strategies to build business, squeeze more business value out of existing systems, and solve pressing business challenges.

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    Click through for tips on improving business through strategic integration.

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    Integration isn't just about systems, it’s about strategic integration of business processes in the enterprise. Some companies are even forming enterprise integration groups as a new business unit to address this need. Another trend: distributed innovation groups, which act as an internal incubator for businesses.

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    There's a lot of valuable data in CRM systems. Some companies are squeezing more value from CRM by integrating it with supply chain management, which can cut fulfillment times and help with ordering products. More companies are also interested in integrating CRM with bookkeeping systems, which can help better analyze which customers are truly profitable.

    Others are also cutting costs by integrating CRM and ERP with their websites. According to an e-Commerce column written by Sandeep Walia, president of of e-commerce solution company Ignify, processing e-commerce orders can cost between $5-16 per order. Walia claimed that by integrating payment processing systems with ERP and CRM, those costs can be cut to under $1 per transaction.

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    A TDWI report found that business analysts spend upwards of 50 percent of their time doing things the IT department should be doing, much of it involving reports and data, because of a long-standing culture clash between IT and business analysts. This causes real business problems, affecting the timeliness of models, the model quality and general inefficiency and time waste.

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    If your company does online sales – and who doesn't these days – you can improve customer satisfaction and potentially stop your company from losing customers by ensuring that information from the business website is integrated with the call center. That's the moral of a Harris Interactive survey conducted in the U.S. and the UK for TeaLeaf, which offers customer experience management solutions to companies. While the study focused on abandonment rates when customers experience problems online, it also showed that calls to customer service didn't help because customer service was generally clueless about the Web site.

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    Previously, Loraine Lawson shared an Aite Group study showing how technology integration affected investment advisory firms. With advising firms, you want financial advisors spending time on clients and portfolio management – not frittering away time on administrative tasks and compliance. The study found that when IT created tight integration among the supporting applications, advisors spent 50 percent more time with clients than the average financial advisor. It also reduced their administrative burden by 33 percent and their compliance workload by 30 percent.

     While you're at it, don't forget desktop integration. An Aberdeen report found that businesses could reclaim six hours per employee of lost time each week with better tools, citing in particular integration between enterprise applications and desktop tools.

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    It never hurts to help out your company's CFO – and one of the data complexity problems causing CFOs a lot of problems is spend analysis. One company reportedly reduced its overall purchasing spend by about 5 percent after using master data management strategy on spend analysis data, according to this Supply-Demand Chain Executive article, written by Jessie Chimni, a vice president for the supply chain business and technology consulting firm Bristlecone, Inc.

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    Companies aren't as adept at mergers and acquisitions as you'd like to think. Integration in particular tends to be an afterthought. In an effort to fix that, companies are starting to pay more attention to operations and other issues that involve IT before the merger goes through.

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    One way to make sure you're helping the business is to ask the right questions. Mark Denchy, director of product management at data-integration company EXTOL International, offered this list of questions in an August DM Review article to help you justify the cost of an integration project – but you could just as easily use these questions to pinpoint how you can better serve the business: Are orders being held up? When will my order be shipped? What demand can we expect from our product? Are there any unusual spikes or dips in sales volume? Where is my order? When will more product be available? What’s going on (financially)?

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    This is always the tricky one, isn't it? Sometimes, these initiatives sound very complex. For instance, Loraine previously shared how the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) allowed homeowners to control their energy spending using smart devices and alerts about energy uses. The technology involved used devices, but also a service-oriented architecture. During the two-year trial, participants who could respond to real-time prices reduced peak power use by 15 percent.

    On a smaller scale, why not explore the business-building potential of mashups? Mashups show promise as a on-the-fly data-integration tool. Users want them, and, with a little work, mashups can be enterprise-friendly.

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    Consider taking a common approach and using it in a very strategic, business-enabling way. A good example is this ETL deployment by IPS-Sendero, a software-development company and professional services company that focuses on corporate performance management. The director of technology architecture and information security officer at IPS- Sendero, Stephen Inocencio, didn't use the tool in your typical way. He embedded it as part of the company's core solution, using it at client sites to deploy IPS-Sendero's solution faster. Before this project, it would take the tech-services firm anywhere from two weeks to three months to bring a new client's data on board. The strategic use of Pervasive's ETL tool reduced that time to about 18 minutes.

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