By Tim Nolan, CEO of Nolan Business Solutions

The ease of application configuration may be delivering significant corporate value but is it really enough? Why create the ideal finance solution, for example, but fail to integrate it to the rest of the business? Why continue to rely on manual processes and spreadsheets to share key corporate data between systems, especially in today’s ‘always on’ environment that is creating a pressing need to deliver real-time access to all corporate information?

Configuration Benefits

Today’s business applications are highly configurable, providing excellent functionality without demanding a compromise in business processes. And these traditional and cloud computing based solutions are available not only to office bound employees, but via the web and mobile phones to employees anytime, anywhere.

Yet the majority of these perfectly configured applications are standalone. On the whole, organisations are still reliant on multiple, disparate systems that, whilst individually highly functional, are undermining business development through lack of integration.

For the employee able to access real-time CRM information via the iPhone, the fact that budgeting and forecasting must then be undertaken via multiple spreadsheets is incredibly frustrating. Similarly, the ability to attain real-time information from the ERP system is fantastic; but how much more benefit could a company gain by integrating that process with key customers and suppliers to automate the production of purchase orders and automatically reconcile invoices?

Configuration is good. But it is not enough. When it is possible to create an integrated business that can seamlessly track a customer interaction from initial Internet lead to final payment, how can any organisation justify the existence of multiple disparate systems, however well configured they may be?

Extending Corporate Value

Organisations now need to be looking beyond individual application configuration. With the increasing adoption of Voice over IP (VoIP), for example, it is far more efficient and accurate to store customer records in the core system to enable everyone in the business to have a complete view of the customer.

But this requires the integration of finance with CRM as well as the VoIP technology. And, unfortunately, the majority of VARS do not have the technical expertise or competence to offer such solutions, leaving organisations often unaware of the benefits that can be attained beyond basic configuration.

Successful integration or tailored add-on development requires a deep understanding of the underlying application; it requires the ability to truly understand business needs and, critically, it requires a pragmatic approach to technology to ensure the resultant development meets those business needs.

Without this technical understanding and experience, developers — both in house and external — can cause significant problems, often unwittingly. For example, a ‘temporary’ solution can become, over time and many enhancements/amendments later, a source of core business information that is not integrated with the rest of the organisation; or quite often it is the case that the extraordinarily complex layers of integration created by inexperienced developers will compromise on going upgrades of core software and leave many solutions expensive to support but high risk to change.

It is the essential combination of software source code level experience and business expertise, that is key to avoiding expensive technical innovation which still fails to address the key business objectives. It is excellent documentation and control that will ensure that system integration or add-on development will deliver both initial benefits and continuing improvements through seamless upgrades of the core application.

Creating an Integrated Business

There is currently a clear disconnect between an organisation’s expectations and the reseller market’s ability to deliver. As the sophistication and configurability of applications has increased, so have business expectations. The unprecedented configurability of today’s technology from traditional on site solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics GP to the new breed of cloud based applications such as NetSuite, has created a perception that integration of systems has become as easy as configuration. But without having the appropriate skills and experience in the underlying applications this is simply not the case.

Of course, just as applications are more configurable today, there is no doubt that vendors such as Microsoft have made huge advances in delivering new applications that can be more simply integrated. But such advances do not address the legacy application investment; or the burgeoning need to create integration between organisations - for example, automating the delivery of purchase orders to suppliers’ systems which requires significant technical skill and business expertise.

No organisation should embark upon integration with partners or suppliers without having complete confidence in the technical ability and experience of a solution provider. In this ‘always on’ economy, organisations simply cannot continue to enhance core applications without considering the creation of a single source of all corporate data.