A lot of companies believe that integrating as many systems as possible is important. If only they could build a “Grand Central Station” of connected CRM, ERP and content management tools, employees would be so much more productive, right? 

What they forget in this drive to integrate for the sake of integration is to focus on actual use cases. People typically visit Grand Central Station in NYC for the fastest way to get to where they’re going, not just to see a bunch of trains. And when it comes to the workplace, employees simply want tools that help get their work done. Having the biggest, best-connected systems doesn't solve anything if they don’t facilitate specific employee needs.

Start with Prospective Employees

One way to think about use cases for integrated systems is to start with prospective employees. If you speak to someone in your HR or People department, you’ll likely find out some remarkable insights into the employee journey. 

Ask if your current solutions are attracting the best talent and if not, why not? Do you have a static intranet or are you offering employees an interactive internal community that reflects your values and culture — a place where they can get their questions answered in real time? Do you offer a platform that guides interviewees through each step in the process or are they forced to search for the appropriate forms on their own? What about systems that smooth the onboarding process for new hires, or foster communication and collaboration across departmental silos?

Beware of Context Switching

The next thing to look for is ways you might minimize context switching. People tend to waste time jumping from one transactional system to the next to submit an expense report, complete an online training, do email, update a customer support ticket, etc. If your employees spend their days bouncing around like a pinball between different tools and solutions to do their jobs, just imagine what your customers must go through while attempting to do business with your company.

Stay Relevant

Speaking of customers, it’s worth noting that the employee journey closely parallels the customer journey. It helps to think of your employees as customers because, in reality, they are. After all, you must recruit or acquire, prepare, onboard, manage, inspire, grow and support both employees and customers. 

Today’s consumers expect a consistent experience across all channels. In fact, the 2015 International Data Corporation (IDC) EXPERIENCES study found that providing a connected experience was the most important factor for achieving a “superior customer experience.” And of course, employees’ digital experiences inside the company should meet this same expectation.

Our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, so when you force customers (or the employees that serve them) to jump through hoops created by too many systems, it creates irritating inefficiencies. People just want to get where they want to go — and don’t much care how they get there. If your organization can take them there seamlessly, in the easiest way possible, you’ll be well on your way to building and sustaining relevancy in today’s fast-changing markets.

Integration's Downside

The flipside of all this is over-integration — which former Senior Vice President of Oracle CRM, Anthony Lye, once called the "Achilles heel of IT" — is that the costs of integration often outweigh the benefits. While it’s true that upgrade challenges, versioning differences and compatibility issues can be expensive, the emotional price of too much integration might be the bigger story. The headaches inherent from spending vast resources on force-fitting disconnected systems together — especially if it’s seen as unnecessary — can cause morale to suffer, which may result in low internal adoption rates and fuel employee attrition.

The Sweet Spot Between Silos and Over-Integration

So how can you be sure you’re investing in the right integrations to support your employee and customer journey now and into the future? First, think about establishing solutions that can grow along with your company. Ideally, future integrations should be built-in so that you can add the tools you rely on today and hold off on the ones you don’t need until later.

Most importantly, don’t solely rely on the IT department to make the decision — ask employees in various departments what their pain points are. Once you have those answers, you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction. Just like in Grand Central Station, your tracks need to lead somewhere interesting, exciting or useful — otherwise nobody will get on the train. 

The key with integration, then, isn’t to connect each and every siloed system across the organization, it’s to make sure the right solutions are in place so employees and customers can easily and efficiently get where they want to go. Convenience, not tools, should drive use cases. Even though times and technology have changed, business is still all about people. Put them first and your systems will follow.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Yuya Sekiguchi