Do you have a software solution that works great for part of your business, but falls short?
Maybe you’re using Magento or Shopify to sell online from your website, but you are still manually logging orders in your accounting system or manually processing your shipments.
Maybe you have an amazing industrial automation solution that eliminates thousands of man-hours in manual labor but you need it to talk to your ERP to get orders and report back inventory.
Maybe you built a custom solution in something like FileMaker Pro or Microsoft Access, but now you have some more advanced needs, like talking to an API, generating advanced reports, exporting to or importing from another database.
Maybe you hired outsourced developers to build you a solution, but now they are gone, and you need new features and bug fixes.
I have a lot on my plate, why should I care?
If you are using software that doesn’t fit your needs, it can range from a minor annoyance to a huge danger to the vitality of your business.
Sometimes it just means you or your employees have to double enter information in two systems or handle a task manually that feels like something a computer could do. That can be kind of annoying, and make some part of your day suck. But usually, you get it over with and move on to something else.
But what do you do as your business grows and that annoyance grows along with it? Suddenly, a two-hour task can become a full-time job. But you already have a full-time job managing the rest of your business.
If you get sucked into that trap, who is steering the ship and managing the business? If you’re lucky, you’ve got a good team behind you, and you can delegate tasks like this to your team members. But good team members are hard to find, and one of the largest expenses for a small business. You don’t want to waste that talent, energy, and money on menial tasks. There are better things for your team to focus on as well.
But we’ve already invested a lot in our current systems…
If you have a system that is working really well, for part of your business, that’s great. If your sales team has a CRM they really like, that makes it easy for them to track and follow up with leads, you don’t want to slow them down by moving to something else. If your warehouse team has an order tracking system that is helping them handle orders efficiently, you may not want to halt all that progress to retrain them on some new tool. And whatever you do, you really don’t want to upset the accounting team; they get scary when you mess with their systems.
But even if every part of your company has its own pet system that works well for them, the whole collection may not be working well for the company as a whole. The sales team may be tracking leads and customers in their system, but they won’t have any visibility about order fulfillment. The warehouse team may be able to fulfill orders, but they won’t see the sales team’s customer notes, with important information about how and when the orders are to be fulfilled. And sooner or later, if you want your books to balance, everything needs to come back to accounting.
Not to mention, you as the captain of the ship, need to be able to make strategic decisions for the company based on data, but if that data is spread across half a dozen systems, doing a meaningful analysis is going to be a huge headache. Realistically, you could export everything to spreadsheets and stitch it together, but by the time you’re done, it might be outdated. And even if it’s not, it was so much trouble, you’re probably not going to do it again.
So, should we move everything over to a new system?
The temptation is to try and implement One System to Rule Them All™. But that is a daunting proposition. Can you find (or build) one system that works with all your company’s processes? And if so, how much is that going to cost? But there is a bigger problem. Giant systems that try to be everything to everyone tend to be like a Swiss Army Knife. Now, don’t get me wrong, Swiss Army Knives and multi-tools, in general, are really cool, and really handy when you’re in a pinch. I carry one myself. But have you ever tried to use one for a series project? It’s got a knife, but the blade doesn’t lock, and it’s not very sharp. It’s got a screwdriver, but the tip is a little weird, and the angle isn’t very ergonomic. It’s got scissors, but they’re absolutely tiny. The tweezers… actually, the tiny tweezers are pretty good for splinters, but not as good as the ones in my medicine cabinet. And that’s the thing, the Swiss Army Knife can do so many things, but most of them poorly, and none of them as well as a dedicated tool designed for a specific task.
Software tends to follow the same pattern. It’s easy to find a piece of software that does one thing really well. It’s a little harder to find one that does two things well, and the more tasks you demand of a piece of software, the more the general quality will suffer.
Why is that? Well, it’s actually not a technology problem, but a human problem. Think of a piece of software you really love in your business, that just fits perfectly. Maybe your sales team absolutely loves their CRM. What makes it so great? If you dig into the history behind the product, the company’s founder, or the product management team that drives the design and feature decisions, they have more than likely spent a great deal of time understanding the use case for that software. Often times, great software is the result of someone working in a specific business, and realizing, “no one is making good tools for this, I can do it better,” and they use their firsthand knowledge of the business to do just that. If you don’t have a found who is deeply familiar with the business from having worked in it, you have someone doing extensive research, observing and interviewing users, in order to get a deeper understanding of what the software needs to be.
But that depth of expertise is really hard to achieve and maintain in multiple domains. When the people that really get what you need in a CRM try to build tools for warehouse management, order fulfillment, accounting, or whatever else, they don’t have the same level of expertise, and it doesn’t go well. Or, maybe they do have the expertise, but it doesn’t fit, because they’re targeting a different goal. It might be that their approach to designing a CRM works great with the way your sales team operates, but their approach to these other tasks, while excellent for some businesses, just doesn’t align with the way your team does things.
A while back, we worked with a company that sold used office equipment on eBay. It was a really innovative business, with a great team. However, the people in charge of listing products on eBay were really dissatisfied with the tools they were using. So we were trying to migrate to a new, web-based system that would manage inventory, eBay listing details, product images, categorization, warehousing, orders, shipping, basically all the company’s day-to-day operations. But they ran into a bit of a roadblock. Most of the users of this software were apparently selling books, CDs, or remaindered inventory of new retail products.
This meant they usually had several identical copies of any product they were selling. Meanwhile, the company we were working with had built their business model around one-off items. They sold all sorts of things, but their bread and butter was used computer equipment. While they might have a stack of nearly identical laptops come in, each one would be in a different condition. They would photograph each unit individually, document any issues, and provide detailed specifications for the product. This was sort of a differentiator for them since other resellers on eBay might list the whole batch as a single listing, with a broad description of the range of conditions. Since they posted individual listings, with individual photos, their customers knew exactly what they were getting, and were willing to pay a premium for that certainty
But this software was not optimized for that use case of individual listings. It meant that other users of the software might have more sales volume, but fewer eBay listings. It also meant that there were some edge cases where a product could be double-sold, which would not matter to someone with a large inventory but would be a customer-service nightmare for a seller whose products all had an inventory of 1. It also meant that building the product descriptions was a fairly laborious manual process since a typical user would not have to do it very often, writing a product description once, and reusing it dozens, if not hundreds of times.
We spent untold hours on conference calls with the sales and support team for this software, trying to make it work for the company’s use case, but in the end, it just wasn’t a good fit.
Maybe you’ve tried an end-to-end all-in-one solution, and been similarly disappointed. If not, perhaps this can serve as a warning of the pitfalls that come with that approach.
What is integration?
But there is another way. If you already have a tool that’s serving part of your business well, why not keep it? If you already have multiple tools, why not keep all of them?
It is very likely that there is some way to make those unrelated systems talk to each other. If one system has data that another one needs, you can probably implement a script that exports data from one system to the other.
For the company mentioned above, we already had a good tool for generating the detailed item descriptions, and we found a tool that was really good at managing eBay listings (scheduling auctions, selecting categories, handling invoices and payments, etc.). So we built a solution that would export the data from the tool that helped generate item descriptions, and import it to the eBay listing tool.
Rather than build everything from scratch, we took two existing tools and leveraged both their strengths to provide a better solution than the end-to-end solution, but we only had to build the comparatively simple and inexpensive import/export script, instead of a complete solution.
If you need to analyze data from all your systems to get a better understanding of your business as a whole, we have built similar import/export solutions to get all the data from multiple systems into a single database. This makes it easy to connect a business intelligence or reporting system to provide insights from all of your data.
How does it work?
Depending on the tools you are working with, there are a whole lot of options available to provide these integration solutions. If you are working with web-based applications or SaaS (software as a service), they will probably have an API we can talk to, that allows for reading and writing data in the system, simulating manual user actions, and sometimes subscribing to different events in the system to all real-time updates. If you are running the system on a local PC or server at your office, it probably has a database backend we can access to read and write the needed data.
We have built integration solutions using an incredibly long list of technologies. This is only a partial list:
- Mac OS X
- MySQL and MariaDB
- Microsoft SQL Server
- Email (SMTP, POP3, IMAP)
- Raw TCP
If some of that stuff rings a bell, great. If it all looks like a bunch of gibberish and jargon, that’s pretty much what it is. Don’t worry about it. You just tell us what you know, and we can help you figure out the rest. Whatever systems you’re using, we have probably seen them, or something similar to them before, and even if we haven’t we can figure it out.
Let me break it down simply. All those tools you’re relying on for your business. As long as you’re happy with them, you can keep them, unchanged, but have them all work together more efficiently. That’s what integration is all about, and it’s what we do for clients every day.
If you are having trouble process inefficiencies from too many disconnected tools or struggling to get a bird’s-eye view of your business because all your data is to spread out, we would love to jump on a call and talk about it. And we would be happy to make some recommendations.
Why Fulcrum Dynamic?
With over a decade of field experience in tech and software development, we have already developed a broad range of experience and expertise. We have gained excellent know-how and skillsets to cater to just about any aspect of your business. Whether it’s accounting, inventory, point of sales, eCommerce, shipping, marketing, sales, customer service — name it and Fulcrum Dynamic already has it.
Given the industry flexibility, Fulcrum Dynamic curtails each Solution by starting with what you need. Beginning with a comprehensive assessment prior to the design, we ensure solutions that do not just work for your needs but also best reflect your industry, your brand, and your work requirements.
Fulcrum Dynamic has a long list of technologies that we use to build such integration solutions. The current number of our tech stack is still growing in number as we commit to learning new ones every day. Given that the technology needed for the project is not included in our arsenal, we make a way to learn it and implement it afterward. Below are just some of these technologies at our disposal:
To ensure quality and systematic project management, we follow a proven and tested process flow to comprehensively cover your needs for an integration solution. We begin with a consultation to know your solution requirements. This is followed by an assessment to identify your business needs. We study your current tools and systems and from there, we identify the integration solution as well as the technologies to match, design, and implement.
But I already invested so much in my current systems and solutions. Should I scrap them?
Nope. No. The good news about Integration Solutions is that there is no need for you to start all over again and lose the system you’ve spent a great amount on. If you are working with web-based applications or SaaS (software as a service), you probably have the API that we can talk to. If you are running the system on a local PC or server at your office, it probably has a database backend we can access to read and write the needed data.
Rest assured, Fulcrum Dynamic will let you keep everything you’ve worked with and will simply “integrate” the solution. We will find the dead ends, carve a way out of there, match the loose ends, and will simply leverage your current tools. As long as you’re happy with these systems, you can keep them – unchanged – and we will simply let them all work together more efficiently. That’s what integration is all about, and it’s what we do for clients every day.
I’m afraid your technologies do not ring a bell.
If the list above looks like a bunch of gibberish and jargon, we got you! You just tell us what you know, and we can help you figure out the rest. After all, that is why we are here for. Whatever systems you’re using, we have probably seen them, or something similar to them before, and even if we haven’t, we can figure it out, no problem.
How do I get started?
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