Your company is the web
Posted by Tim Bertens on 21/01/2012
One of the benefits of our job, is that we often interact with different companies in different business lines driven by different strategies. Although every company is unique, many of them share a common issue: how to deal with data, what information needs to be available where, when and in what format, how to avoid duplicate data & labour, how to make most from integration and most important: where to start…
Is your website just another information silo?
When companies think about their web presence, it is common practice to judge it as another silo of non-integrated information with its own set of processes. When done right, it is a beautifully designed and interactive brochure that enables fast updates and a clear structure on the products and/or services that are delivered. Sometimes supported by a wide variety of media (online advertising, social media) to put emphasis on the message to spread and to attract visitors. In the best examples controlled by very efficient call-to-action mechanisms to convert as much visitors into customers as possible. A marketeers dream comes true when all pieces fall into place.
In some cases this is fine or even more than expected. But there is more… much more. Your website could be the start of a new way of thinking… Adopt some of the principles of the web when thinking about your organization, try to incorporate them into some of your information flows. Your company is a web and you will quickly benefit from it when you embrace it principles.
No boundaries to data
When we go back to the early days, computers where objects that contained information, allowed you to interoperate it and were able to do a lot of complex and repetitive tasks in a very fast and consistent way. It became more interesting when those computers were linked to each other and were able to exchange and share information. Somewhere in the nineties it became even more interesting when the Internet, the network of networks, became commercially available for the happy few. Today it is available for almost everyone and soon it'll be available for everything (the internet of things is banging on our doors to become part of consumer goods, but that's a different story i'll save for some other time).
No more boundaries to data… wow… all relevant information can flow through your organization. Everything is (or at least can be) interconnected. Data is available to everyone, everywhere, at all times and is never out of sync. Extremely powerful but at the same time overwhelming when you start thinking about it. The possibilities are endless and picking your starting point is as difficult as determining where to stop.
You can even go beyond the borders or your own company and orchestrate processes and information flows with your closest business partners (suppliers, most important customers, etc).
Don't overdo it at first, start small! Pick wise, try, learn from it, rethink, adapt, expand your selection and repeat...
Do-it-yourself Information Architecture
Days are over that information is being accessed through a human proxy, a human interface for the computer system that is the only one that has access to it and/or is able to interpret its data. Most SME's see benefit in the automation of business processes, in the centralization of company data, but few look at the world outside their main application (ERP, CRM or other). An excellent example of that world outside is your website and its visitors.
The trick is to do not think in functionality or solutions at first: "I want this field to be green in my ERP, when stock levels return to a normal value after being out of stock". But try to conceptualize the information flow first by defining the process for the distribution of this crucial information ("stock levels back to normal") towards all consumers of this data -everyone that was, is or will be defining actions/decisions based on that knowledge- and secondly destilate solutions/changes from this:
- we make it apparent in the ERP-system by putting the stock level field in green
- we update our product catalogue on our website for it to display the most up to date stock level
- our website shows on its front page a list of products that are available again (we might consider to put more emphasis on the products with a high rotation)
- customers that have those kinds of products in backorder with us, are informed via mail that we can deliver again and that their order will be shipped in x days
Being able to enclose data and to setup efficient information flows is how distinguish yourself from your competitors.
Not sure if it you're up to it? Have some of your data objects in mind (product catalogue, orders, seats in theater, account transactions, …) and take a look at these questions:
- is the data common amongst different applications/consumers?
- is it changed frequently ?
- can you determine a master for it?
- can you identify that data in unique way?
If you have data that requires you to answer 4x 'yes' to the questions above, than you have some serious candidates for your information architecture review. Doing so will deliver a more profound, stable and optimized use of data within your organization