Data and The Art of Herding Cats

As a business grows, employees often have to enter the same data multiple times in different locations, which leads to a waste of valuable time and data entry errors. This can be avoided by knowing where the problems usually occur and what the strategies are to culling these "islands" of automation.

Typical islands include:

Order entry and shipping

When we use one system for entering customer orders but then use software from the shipping company to process our shipments, shipping addresses can be entered multiple times without catching redundancy, conflicts or errors. This can result in the package being shipped to the incorrect address, which can lead to an unsatisfied customer as well as penalty fees from the shipping company.

Website and order fulfillment

A company often begins with an established system for entering and processing customer orders, and later decides to implement a website for customers to enter orders directly online. The efficiencies gained from a customer entering her own order can often be lost due to how the online order is handled. Sometimes companies attempt to use the same order fulfillment processes and manually enter the web placed orders into their existing sales order processing system. This can lead to inefficient use of an employees' time as well as the opportunity to introduce data inaccuracies.

CRM and ERP disconnects

There is much excitement and interest in customer relationship management (CRM) software. Unfortunately, companies will often invest in a CRM solution that does not integrate with their existing enterprise resource planning (ERP). This results in the inability to share valuable information like sales history or order status.

So does this mean that companies should skip implementing new technologies? The answer is no. However, when implementing a new system you should ask the following questions:

– How does this new technology fit within my business objectives?

For example, if one business objective is to deliver excellent customer service, does this new technology help provide excellent customer service?

– Can this new technology be integrated with my existing systems?

If the answer is yes, make sure you have an understanding of how the integration would work.

– Does the integration already exist or do you need to make any additional investments? Does the vendor have references for companies already using the integration?

– Is there another vendor for the technology that you are looking at?

If so, how does that solution compare with the solution that you are currently considering? Does the alternative solution integrate with the existing systems?

– Does the new technology give you a competitive advantage? Are any of your competitors currently using a similar technology? If not, why not?

– Do you already have a system that provides a similar solution?

If so, would this new technology replace the existing system? If you are not replacing the existing system, why does the existing system not meet your needs?

An example of an efficiently planned and implemented

system would be this:

Your business has decided to implement software for your shipping department, integrating the shipping software with your order processing software. The shipping clerk enters the order number, automatically linking the shipping address to the shipping software, producing both a shipping label and a confirmation email to the customer.

There are many examples of technological efficiencies that can lead to cost savings as well as greater customer service, as long as there is planning and integration of all software and systems.

If you suspect that you already have islands of automation, take an appraisal of the systems that you own and identify areas of where the same data may be entered multiple times or data errors are occurring. Then, using the list above, determine opportunities where redundancies can be eliminated and systems can be integrated.

Gregory D. Harrand, MBA is the manager for technology consulting at Dennis, Gartland & Niergarth in Traverse City where he provides a broad range of IT services to industries throughout northern Michigan. For more information, contact Greg at (231) 946-1722,, or visit