I consult with a lot of small and medium businesses (SMBs) that turn to technology and software to help grow their businesses. But the software model on which they are pinning the future hopes of their business is often from the past. 1995 is the year that usually comes to mind.
I think of 1995 because that was an era in the development of business software in which many enterprises tried to integrate all of their operations with middleware from suppliers that sold very big solutions to very large companies. I know. I used to work for one of them.
Integrating multiple siloed operations in one big system was in 1995 a kind of holy grail of enterprise software. But, it was a very expensive, time-consuming and not-always successful effort. And, in any case, it was never a suitable approach for a small or medium-sized enterprise. (It may not have been that great an idea for many larger businesses either.)
We’ve learned a lot since those days. One of the early lessons was that it is too expensive to build your own custom software systems from the ground up. Better to use cloud-based, software-as-a-solution (SaaS) and customize it as little as possible to make it work for you. Usually based on a subscription model, SaaS doesn’t require a big capital investment; you get to start using it right away; and in many cases, you pay as you grow.
Since 1995, we’ve learned that integrating multiple SaaS applications is expensive and unrewarding. Although moving to the cloud was a great idea, especially for SMBs, running 10 different cloud-based application services at the same time creates an entirely different class of problems.
There is duplication of effort, to start with. They all seem to want the same information. But because they are on different platforms, they don’t share what is common. They also don’t share what is different and changing. So it’s up to you to manually keep them all in synch. If you don’t keep up, you’re basically relying on inaccurate data, which means poor decisions.
This isn’t just a headache for your operations, it affects your customers support as well. As they move from sales, to fulfillment to support, customers have to tell their story over and over — there’s no continuity. Each part of your organization is using a separate application and they’re not synchronized. Your people keep telling them different stories; customers get frustrated and your employee’s get frustrated too.
For SMBs, it’s far better to look for SaaS solutions that are pre-integrated from the ground up as an end-to-end platform — with their needs in mind. Unless your business is very unusual, most of what you do, from marketing and sales, to inventory and shipping, to managing your web site and e-commerce channels is remarkably similar from one business to another. Don’t start with a bunch of separate applications and try to bridge between them. Start with one application that has as much of what you need — all-in-one.
At Systum, we’ve incorporated these lessons in our cloud-based solution for SMBs. We’re bringing you best practices for all the areas of your business, shrink-wrapped and pre-integrated. Think of it as an operating system for your business, 2018-style, not 1995.