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Integrated Information Systems
The Three Key Elements of a Successful Organization
Integrated information systems are one of the technological components that provide innovation through increasing efficiency of the people running the organizational processes.
It should be pointed out, that technology (information systems included) is not an innovation per se, it rather plays a supporting role for the people and processes. Hence, it is only valuable when it makes people’s lives easier and processes – more efficient.
Classes of Integrated Information Systems
Integrated information systems usually cover more than one business process, and have sets of features that often overlap, but are often categorized in some of the following classes:
- Collaboration systems – maintain different channels for communication between people within or outside the organization, including but not limited to tools like email instant messages, forums, wikis, etc.
- Document Management Systems (DMS) – maintain centralized electronic storage of documents, usually providing services for search, tagging, sharing, access control, versioning, lifecycle management, etc.
- Enterprise Resource Planing (ERP) Systems – platforms, which automate processes like planning and project management, inventory, procurement and supplier management, employee timesheet and leave management, invoicing, etc.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems – systems focused on establishing and maintaining communication with potential and existing customers, featuring contacts management, lead management, account management, etc.
- Accounting systems – providing accounting, banking and taxation services, etc.
- Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS) – platforms for managing recruitment and staffing processes, providing capabilities like job descriptions, candidate profiles, employee records-keeping, performance evaluation, etc.
Most of the currently available integrated information systems combine features form more than one of the classes listed above, providing seamless and rich experience. Commercial or Free and open-source platforms are available, aimed at general businesses or niche markets with specific requirements.
The first step in introducing an innovation is to analyze the business processes within the organization. Then and only then you would have enough information what processes are there and what are the interactions between them (flow of control, information, resources, etc.) and with the processes external to the organization (relations with customers, suppliers, etc.). Once there is a clear and thorough understanding in place, the analysis can progress with the identification of processes and individual process components that are the most resource-intensive.
Having the list of the most resource-intensive processes, research should be performed, aiming to find a solution to save resources (human effort and time are the usual suspects). The solution would ideally cover all – or as many as possible – of the processes identified, starting with the ones having the highest impact. Integration, or managing as much processes as possible from within a single point of control, adds to reducing the inefficiency of people, directly translating in higher competitiveness.
After identifying the most suitable integrated information system, it should be thoroughly tested and customized to the established processes and workflows within the organization. It is not uncommon to have a disruptive technology – one that redefines the processes completely – but the more the transformed process deviates from its “business as usual” state, the more resources (again, mostly human effort and time) it will take to make the transition.
I cannot overstate the importance of piloting, especially if there already is some sort of an information system in place. Parallel run of the old and new systems should be planned for a period of time, long enough to ensure the proper installation, customization and training of the critical people that will manage the transition and the proper run of the information system. Settings should be tweaked and roles should be simulated until the system has reached a stable state of effectiveness and resilience.
Once the new information system has proven effective and robust enough to manage the processes, a gradual integration should be planned. First, all future users (internal and external) should be trained and provided with access to the new system. The operational information should be transferred from the old system (if available) or entered directly. The existing (old) system should be kept as the primary point of authority until the new system and the people using it are fully comfortable managing the processes. Integration with other systems should be implemented and tested, but not active if it requires authority over information. At a pre-planned and widely known point in time the authority of information should be switched to the new system. At the same point the old system should be made entirely unavailable to end users, but should be maintained fully operational for at least several months.
Maintenance and Support
Resources for maintenance and support (human and financial) should be planned and provided, either inhouse, or as an external service. Hosting the information system externally may or may not be feasible for smaller organizations, depending on the security and privacy requirements, as well as the resources needed for securing an externally vs. an internally hosted solution.
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