Warning: Your Information Systems May be Holding You Back

Dec. 1, 2010
Multiple point systems and spreadsheets impede the roll-out of cross-functional go-to-market changes.

You are responsible for business operations at a medium sized company. Despite the slow economy, you and your team have consistently delivered over the past few quarters. The business plan now calls for aggressively growing the quarterly revenue. You are excited about the challenge, but also nervous about pulling it off. You know that adding additional sales headcount and increasing the marketing budget will not do the trick. You know that in order to make the numbers, your team will need to make some changes to your existing go-to-market plan such as creating new pricing or product bundles; adding new sales channels; or adding new products or service offerings.

While companies want to be nimble and implement these changes quickly, it often takes weeks and months for many to implement them. In the next section we will look at the root cause -- why it takes too long to implement these critical go-to-market changes.

Root Cause: Why It Takes Too Long?

Many mid-sized companies may use a combination of spreadsheets and point systems to manage their sales and marketing processes. These point solutions tend to be departmental and have focused on automating one business process such as marketing or sales management. This narrow scope makes it easy for a business user to acquire a solution to automate their own department, without requiring buy-in from other departments. As a result, many small and medium sized businesses have ended up with point solutions each addressing only one business area, complemented with multiple spreadsheets and some legacy solutions.

In these organizations, it is not unusual to find a cross-departmental business process such as pricing or a go-to-market initiative such as improving product profitability managed using multiple point solutions and spreadsheets. Below are the problems multiple point solutions create when implementing these cross-functional changes:

  • Since each point solution has its own database and is used by different set of users, it is not uncommon to find conflicting information in these systems, which delays the implementation of such cross functional processes/initiatives. As a result of conflicting data, the KPIs from two different systems (such as quarterly revenue from a certain spreadsheet system versus similar information in the sales automation system) may conflict. These conflicts often create confusion within a company in evaluating the performance of a go-to-market strategy or measuring improvements from it, leading to unnecessary delays In implementing cross-functional process changes.
  • One has to often manually enter data from one system to another to complete the transaction, for example, a customer configuration from a spreadsheet or sales system into the invoicing transaction in the finance system. This manual data entry increases the probability of data entry errors creeping in. Alternative is to integrate these disparate systems, but that requires significant IT resources and makes the entire system rigid.
  • Another common issue with multiple point systems is that a sales user may not have access to an operational system to completely do their job leading to issues such as not being able to quote a delivery date or the sales team hearing about missed delivery dates from the customer rather than from internal 'early warning' alerts. Reason for such a problem is that the order status and shipment information is on a different system and the sales team does not access that system -- since they only use their point sales and marketing system to do their daily job.

These examples illustrate how usage of multiple point systems and spreadsheets impede the roll-out of cross-functional go-to-market changes.

We believe that these issues can be addressed by ensuring that these processes are automated by an integrated ERP system, rather than a collection of departmental systems. In an integrated application there is one data model for customers, suppliers, employees and operations. This enables managers to get a 360 degree view of their business and promotes alignment between departments.

One no longer needs to constantly bring data from disparate point solutions, which are managing different business processes, into multiple common spreadsheets to get a shared view of the operations. Because the data for all business operations is in one database within the application, standard reports and dashboards within the system automatically provide an integrated 360-degree view of the business.

In addition, when a company has multiple point solutions supporting this process, and if the customer is facing a particular problem with a sales order, the company would need to examine multiple systems to identify the core problem. This would not only delay the diagnosis (and hence affect customer satisfaction); it is also unlikely that the organization would discover the problem before the customer experiences it. In an integrated application, the use of dashboards, workflow and automated alerts would provide early warning of a potential problem to the management and allow them to proactively address it.

If you want to setup an environment for rapidly implementing cross-functional changes within your company, we recommend using with an integrated system to automate your business processes. Such a system makes it easier (and less painful) to implement changes to go-to-market programs. In addition, the integrated systems now come with quick implementation templates, so the cost of deploying such systems is not significantly higher than the cost of deploying multiple point systems and then manually integrating them.

Colin Snow is Senior Director of Solutions Marketing for SAP Business All-in-One, a single configurable solution including financials, human resources, procurement, inventory, manufacturing, logistics, product development, corporate services, customer service, sales and marketing.

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