Integration Opportunities That Will Maximize Your Business’s Efficiency
In business terms, integration refers to the process of bringing disparate systems together and unifying them so that they behave as a single coherent unit. Integration is one of the key methods by which businesses can ramp up their productivity without harming their bottom line. Integration is usually a process that streamlines existing systems rather than replacing them with expensive new ones and is thus a cheaper and more efficient way of streamlining your company’s workflow than investing in the development and or installation of a new system which employees would then need to be trained in how to use.
Integration can also occur between different departments within a business, note however that integration is different from merging. Merging two separate departments would result in a single department which would perform the combined functions of both departments. Integrating two separate departments means standardizing their procedures and software so that there are no barriers preventing them from exchanging data with one another and, if it is in the interests of the business as a whole to do so, making the systems of each department accessible to the other. Below are some of the ways businesses can utilize the principles of integration to ensure that their business is operating at maximum efficiency:
The first step in increasing efficiency should be the integration of processes. Essentially, this means that for any given task that an employee is likely to carry out, there should be a clear and concise procedure to follow that all employees are aware of. The best test of how integrated a company’s processes are is to assign a task to several employees at random and observe, or have them report, exactly how they went about completing that task. If processes are integrated, then each employee should perform the same steps and the procedures should be identical (unless some variance is built into your standard procedures).
Integrating processes has a number of advantages both to you as a manager and to your employees. First, because all employees will understand how to perform tasks, they will be in a position to assist one another, thereby fostering teamwork. Employees may also be more inclined to ask questions when they are unsure of procedure if they are asking a colleague rather than approaching their boss.
It is up to you whether you approach process integration by simply training employees in procedures or, alternatively, you could opt to invest in specialized software which is designed to automate the integration process to a degree. Both options are viable and most businesses will benefit from combining the two approaches. Let’s take payroll as an example. You could both register with ADP Workforce Now, a service which allows you to create a custom payroll app tailored to your individual business needs, and also train your payroll and human resources department to maintain payroll records manually, ensuring that both departments follow the same procedures to do so.
Unified communications, as integrated communications systems are known, combines real time communications services such as VoIP (voice over IP) and IRC (instant relay chat) with non-instantaneous communications systems such as email and SMS messaging. Integrating these systems means that employees can use any system to communicate via any other system. For example, an employee could receive an alert through email that they have a new voicemail message and then they could access that voice message using either a phone or a VoIP service as they see fit.
Integrated communications systems are a simple but very effective way of increasing overall productivity through a variety of different means. These gains are maximized by combining unified communications with presence technology. Presence technology is something we are all familiar with, although probably not by name, as it is the same technology that lets us see whether our Facebook friends are online and alerts us when a contact signs in on an instant messaging service. Essentially, the purpose of presence technology is to allow employees to check one another’s status and availability at a glance; this means that when they need to communicate with one another or share data with one another, they can choose the most appropriate method of doing so and the most appropriate colleague to contact.
As well as benefiting employees working individually, unified communications are also a valuable asset for encouraging effective collaboration and teamwork. Now that instant communications systems are commonplace, it is possible for employees within a company, or from different companies in some cases, to collaborate on projects without having to be in the same physical area. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by investing in conferencing software. However, this is often needlessly expensive and often the software has few, if any, advantages over much cheaper VoIP services.
Some businesses opt to accomplish all their integration goals with a single piece of software, often one that they have commissioned or built themselves that is tailored to the business’s individual needs. Many businesses, particularly those that experience rapid growth, fall into the trap of implementing a variety of different software packages. Even though these might be eminently suited to the tasks at hand, having a large number of different software packages in use within a business makes things needlessly difficult for new recruits who will have to learn how to use all the different pieces of software.
You should aim to have as few pieces of software in use as possible, although you need not necessarily restrict yourself to just one. It is important that any software packages you do choose to install are installed for a specific and well defined purpose. If you yourself can’t justify adding a new piece of software to your repertoire, then don’t add it simply for the sake of doing so.
Integration in all its forms is an excellent way of increasing the overall productivity of your business and raising employees’ confidence by making their lives easier. As well as increasing your business’s efficiency, and therefore profit making potential, an integrated business encourages teamwork and collaboration.