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Most small and midsize businesses run on old software suites. Their systems no longer fit the demands of a work-from-anywhere world. Even worse, they are not well integrated, causing extra work for employees who spend long hours, often on personal time, toggling between programs to support what should be simple business processes. On top of that, poor software support erodes the vendor-customer relationship, because it makes conducting business more difficult.

Not surprisingly, many employees dislike the software tools they work with. A recent survey of more than 500 inside sales professionals that we conducted sheds light on why. Workers told us that they routinely keep as many as eight screens or windows open at once to capture and source the data needed to do their jobs in sales, marketing, and service. When we asked them to compare the onerousness of using their software with other less-than-pleasant activities such as waiting in line at the DMV, jury duty, arguing with their significant others, or even cleaning the bathroom, an aggregate 66% preferred any of those activities over using their front office systems. Significantly, customer relationship management (CRM) suites only ranked fifth in popularity compared to general purpose social media, email, and word processing systems.

All of this creates serious problems for businesses. How can companies expect to compete in the digital age with outdated systems that no one wants to use? How can employees properly serve customers when performing even basic functions is as frustrating as a trip to the DMV?

Many businesses are trying to update their systems to solve these problems, but they don’t really understand how to build a digital organization from the ground up. They want to undergo a digital transformation, but they don’t understand what that entails. Simply purchasing new software isn’t going to make a difference if those tools don’t integrate and work well with one another. In this article, we examine why forming a cohesive strategy for systems integration and data management is critical for creating compelling customer and employee experiences.

Solving Software Overload

Fixing these problems is possible, but not if companies do what they’ve always done by purchasing the next bright, shiny software object.

Today, winning the differentiation battle in business has gone from something close to a big company’s inalienable right — stemming from its market power — to a fight to be the first to present a credible solution with the right offer and price. Fundamentally, then, digital transformation is about making organizations faster and more easily adaptable in the face of ruthless competition from all sides.

Speed and adaptability can only occur for businesses that have built or deployed software systems that are well integrated and easy to use. But you can’t buy flexibility and no honest software vendor will try to sell it. Flexibility comes from software platforms that allow a plethora of applications to work with the same data, as well as supporting functions like integration capabilities, workflow, analytics, journey mapping, and content management. Most importantly, these systems must support code generation that easily knits all the components together. There’s also art involved in using all of it wisely.

Without a centralized location where data from one system flows into another, a business’s information sprawls into multiple isolated silos. These information silos must be reconfigured and built as a single organized system where information can quickly flow across the enterprise. Historically this data integration has been poorly built. Some businesses never tried to build it at all.

Our research into the front office software industry shows that most software vendors understand this, and they actively seek to provide essential platform benefits to their customers. They can also provide perspective on how best to assure the success of digital transition projects.

How to Succeed with Your Transformation

Enrique Ortegon, SVP, SMB Sales, North America at Salesforce breaks digital transformation success down to three critical components. A digital organization’s success is based on a few simple ideas, Oretegon says. “Your customer has to have a different and better experience dealing with you.” In other words, “The customer has to be a beneficiary of the technology itself.” But also, the employees using new technology must gain very similar benefits, such as improved productivity from such things as better process flows and easier access to information. “Salespeople have to see that they’re spending less time on administrative tasks,” for instance. Finally, top management must also use the technology. “If it’s not adopted and driven by management it’s likely to fail,” Ortegon said.

While these ideas are hardly new — industry experts have been pointing to their importance for decades — today’s technologies bring a new urgency to the old promises. They are so integral to how we run our businesses that it’s almost impossible for executives to run their companies today without closely monitoring the information that modern systems spew.

Rob Tarkoff, Executive Vice President at Oracle, takes this a step further, observing how business leaders can focus company attention on the things that matter most. “Executive buy-in is easier today because businesses are searching for competitive differentiation,” and that floats to the top of leaders’ agendas. So, for example, simplifying and improving process flows resulting in better lead quality can drive that differentiation. “If I can build a system that self-learns through machine learning and other tools, that adds to differentiation,” Tarkoff said. Of course, those tools are embedded in and drive the platform’s importance.

Even more practically, Tarkoff points to a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) his customers increasingly turn to: Time to First Deal. At a time of intense hiring, undergoing a digital transition correctly inevitably resolves reducing the time to make new hires productive. “How do I get qualified leads to new people so that they’re writing paper as soon as possible?” Tarkoff asks. The direct answer is to use analytics to surface the best leads and suggest next best actions, but all of that must be integrated by a software platform that generates applications that capture data, analyzes it, and present the resulting information to the user in easily consumable nuggets.

Finding the Ideal Software Platform

So, succeeding in digital transformation begins with platform selection — finding the right constellation of basic apps plus the ability to rapidly regenerate error-free, running code to support a business’ changing processes — but this is not a one-time thing. Our research also shows that a significant majority — up to 83% — of businesses expect to be able to regenerate apps to meet specific demand at least weekly and, for many, daily. And an elite group expects to be able to regenerate their customer facing apps hourly. That’s just not going to happen with a traditional approach and software suites.

Another step in successful digital transformation is less often discussed but still vital: perform a needs analysis of every department and group you intend to transform. This may not be as easy as it sounds but it’s necessary and here smaller companies may have an advantage because they may have less baggage.

The essence of transformation is going from one model or way of working to another, so failing to document your starting point makes it very difficult to know if the outcome achieves any goals. Planning doesn’t have to be difficult, and it can be boiled down to two questions: What can’t we do now? And what do we want to do in the future?

Along with those questions, ask how you’ll measure your success using simple math. Those measurements will form the basis of key performance indicators, like time to first deal, and some will become the measures you manage by. So do not skip this. In fact, be sure to involve the community of users in the decision process because they’ll have insights you may not think of.

A New Model for Transformation

This may fly in the face of what we’d previously learned about selecting software. The traditional approach often involved buying the market leader or at least finding a technology solution that provided about 80% of your need. In either case, getting to a usable solution meant programming around deficiencies either with in-house staff or outside partners hired for the task.

That approach often saw mid-project changes and cost overruns were common, but with a platform, everything changes. With drag and drop application definition and code generating technology, no application is ever more than a prototype capable of being improved and regenerated as needs change. So, focus on the platform’s functionality and diversity as well as what modules a vendor may have ready for implementation.

Before there were software platforms, businesses were constrained by pre-programmed commercial applications. They could always program around vendor specified business processes that weren’t quite right for their businesses — if they could afford the effort — but most, especially in the mid-market, had to make do by adjusting the business to the software. Even with all that, business applications did a poor job of providing the insights needed to run the business, and many leaders relied on gut instinct.

Platform technology changed all of this by making application specification and code generation trivial. But as a result, businesses of all sizes have had to rediscover the import of the human element in doing business and how to make the software that supports our most important business processes — how we deal with customers. In the end, the software platform’s ability to function as a container for business can transform even the most traditional business by giving it new insights about how to best satisfy customers.

Author: Denis Pombriant

Source: Harvard Business Review