A good five years ago the partners in my business noticed a shift in thinking among smaller businesses when it came to customer and other data.
It seemed suddenly there was an imperative to reduce the crazy data duplication and even manual handling of the terabytes of customer information within smaller business.
This issue was costing SMEs billions as they continued to process customer data multiple times between the various sales, marketing, accounts and other departments.
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On the other hand, those that were able to seamlessly synchronise their customer and other data were on their way to productivity nirvana.
A big business mainstay
Larger business were already across this massively costly issue. No large organisation worth its salt would manage disparate stores of customer data or suffer the consequences of an administration cost blowout.
Quite simply, the less integrated data was, the greater the administration cost.
Multiple repositories of disparate data is enough to drive any reasonable savvy business person spare as they count the cost of so much duplication and potential error.
But around 2010, the once holy grail of systems integration started to move to within reach of the smaller business operator.
Accounts systems were starting to introduce plug-ins or APIs (Application Program Interfaces) that would finally allow two different systems to swap customer data between them. For example, an e-commerce platform would synchronise with the business’s accounts system and vice versa.
Just this capability alone would save those who arranged it a small fortune, which was previously spent on having staff manually import or even key in data from one system to the other.
Onto the integration bandwagon
In response to this exciting trend, our business started investigating systems integration in some detail and invested heavily in researching and forming relationships with appropriate providers.
Then with some fanfare, we announced that we could now offer e-commerce systems that could fully integrate with accounts and other systems.
While we didn’t quite sit back and wait for the influx of enquiries, the amount of interest we had resembled a tumbleweed blowing down the main street of a ghost town.
An underwhelming response
Despite our promotion amongst our customers, there was really little interest in a development that would save them a pretty penny the moment it was activated.
And after generating considerable enthusiasm amongst the various systems integration providers, we eventually had to revert to them with the not so positive news: the interest from our customers was at best, negligible.
Small business aren’t renowned for their technology adoption but even we were surprised at the lack of response to such a compelling productivity development.
As we have come to understand, many smaller business operators lack the time and confidence to explore new technology, even when its application to their business is completely compelling.
But fast forward to this year and things are finally starting to change.
A Eureka moment?
Finally the notion of integrating so many data stores is piquing demand among smaller business. We are finally being briefed on systems that fully integrate with customer accounts systems and sometimes even a preparedness to switch to accounts systems that integrate with our recommended e-commerce systems.
It may have taken somewhat longer than expected, but systems integration is finally getting the attention from smaller business it deserves.
Hopefully the new year will see an even greater level of interest in this hitherto neglected aspect of business administration.
How integrated is your customer data? And how much could you save if it was?
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.