I started writing this summer about the common threads for those contractors who are highly successful, as opposed to those who are just barely making it, or in some instances, are no longer around, and put them into a top (or bottom, depending how you look at it) 10 list.

Number 10 was Poor Project start (www.cssworks.com/blog). We moved on to No 9 – Documented Processes (a.k.a. semi-organized chaos), and then No 8, Poor Project Communication. And don’t overlook No 7, Support Systems – software and infrastructure, that don’t support organizational success. This month, we’re moving on down the list to Terrible Mistake #6 – Information Silos.

You might wonder – what is an information silo? We define it as any software system that is used by company personnel to track information that does not talk to other systems. It could be a stand-alone service application, or inventory tracker, or scheduling system. Often, it is an Excel spread-sheet that was created out of necessity to “track” something that either could not be accommodated in the company’s accounting system, or more likely, was created out of expediency due to lack of access or licenses, or knowledge that the capability actually already existed.

The impact of this common issue is lots of duplicate effort which results in mistakes and inefficiency, inevitably resulting in silo conflict (“your information is wrong” – “no yours is”, finger-pointing and in the end, unreliable information. The cost is not just two or more people maintaining separate records, it is also the cost of reconciling those records to match actual accounting records that are (or should be) used for financial reporting, and the cost of partial information – not having the complete picture.

We regularly encounter companies with as many as four, five, and six separate systems that are being maintained. If there are multiple divisions and locations, whoa!

How to Prevent Making this Mistake?

The answer is to just find what I refer to as the “holy grail” – one software product that will do everything the way you want it to be done. Unfortunately, just like the proverbial holy grail, software like that just doesn’t exist, and never will, even if you wanted to spend the huge amount of money necessary to build your own. Why? Beside the expense of building your own, there are many oth-er factors. Finding (and keeping) resources, determining precise requirements, adapting to changes, etc. etc. etc. Developing software is not your core business.

The alternative is selecting the right software for your business. Every business is unique, and all software products are built to cover the largest part of the market, the features and functions that will be able to be sold to the most number of businesses. The “gap” for your business can often be covered with configuration adjustments, user defined fields, and custom reports. But sometimes more is needed.

That is where the concept of integration comes in. Get product A to “talk to” product B, with the goal of using the best features of each product, and not having to re-key any data, ever.  This can work, depending mostly how many points of integration are needed. By points of integration, I mean how many specific data elements have to be shared, or moved, between the products, and how often. It can be very simple, like just customer names, or it can be very complex, like detailed job budgets, change orders and inventory transactions.

And, of course, it gets much more complicated if you add in product C and product D to the mix.

Common Sense Solutions has been providing integration services for most of its 26 years of existence. We’d be happy to discuss how to help you reduce your number of information silos.

Stayed tuned next edition for number 5 on the list…