Mike Zarzeka
/ SVP, Information Technology & Systems, SICOM Systems

The holistic ecosystem is a radically different way of looking at technology assets and built with one overarching function—to better understand, serve and realize the value of your customers.

Ask any company what their most important asset is and the answer will be the same—the customer. Yet when you look at the way their technology is organized, it often doesn’t reflect that reality.

That’s because most companies acquire technology opportunistically, with each business function independently choosing solutions that address a specific pain. The result is a network of poorly integrated technologies that can’t share data or enable visibility across the organization without massive amounts of IT support. As the company’s growth accelerates, so do those integration issues, which means that the solutions chosen to support growth suddenly start dragging it down instead.

 

From opportunistic to holistic

The holistic ecosystem is a radically different way of looking at a company’s technology assets, and it is built with one overarching function—to better understand, serve and realize the value of your customers.

It starts with redefining the purpose of the organization’s CRM. Instead of being limited to traditionally customer-centric functions, it becomes the foundation of every organizational function, going beyond marketing and sales to power finance, support, human resources, inventory control and every other business activity. For small to midsized companies, that foundational platform is almost always going to be Salesforce. For larger enterprises, it may be something like SAP or Oracle.

The resulting system will sacrifice some of the functionality of boutique or best-of-breed options, but delivers total, end-to-end visibility, scalability and insight across the organization.

Customer experience

When every business function sits on the same platform, customer data can be collected and shared at each touchpoint. That means that everyone in the organization can put their finger on the pulse of that customer at any time and know who they are, which products or service they use, what issues they’ve had in the past and how successfully they were resolved.

Before we shifted from a best-in-breed model to a holistic ecosystem at Maxwell Systems (a former LLR portfolio company that’s now part of Viewpoint), the customer experience was fragmented across multiple solutions. The customer’s pre-sale history was siloed in a CRM, their order history was trapped in an OMS and their support history was stuck inside the ticketing solution. While each of these solutions functioned beautifully, none of them talked to one another, and that fragmentation was reflected in their experience with the company.

With a holistic system, we were able to start treating people like value customers, instead of strangers at every turn.

Customer empowerment

A holistic ecosystem also opens up the possibility of an array of self-service options—including self-serve purchasing, upgrading, training and troubleshooting—that let the customer take control. This not only improves the customer experience but enhances business efficiency.

At Maxwell Systems, we were able to support a self-serve product renewal process that resulted in 20 percent of the company’s revenue being generated with no involvement from anyone in the finance department. It was completely managed by the customer at their convenience, which means timelier service for them and a significantly lower cost of service for us.

Business growth

In virtually every company I’ve worked for, a holistic system has been the key to rapid growth. Growing a business requires a lot of people to work incredibly hard, but if you’re working towards doubling or tripling the business, it requires more than hard work.

When in growth mode, you need to have a system that streamlines and automates key business processes and enables you to manage greater volume and complexity while keeping the headcount in check.

Here are two examples:

Before we implemented a holistic ecosystem at Maxwell Systems, we didn’t know what our revenues were until we closed the books on a given month, because our people costs, office costs, licensing and maintenance were all captured on different systems. Moving to a holistic system provided visibility across the business, allowing for the trending and forecasting of measurable information. We understood where the business was before a closing period, instead of after it, which meant we could plan further ahead and far more accurately.

When I arrived at my current company SICOM, there were solutions in place for system inventory, customer support, financial, lead and account management. Communication between solutions was spotty and required ongoing support. Separately, they performed a useful function, but importing and exporting data from one solution to another took a significant amount manual entry, IT servicing and API maintenance—enough to keep several people busy full time.

Doubling or tripling the headcount was not a viable option. We needed to provide information visibility natively to the system. For example, our customer support team at SICOM is being tasked with serving a rapidly expanding customer base. They need a system that gives them visibility into the products the customer owns and the way the customer feels about the company so that they can deliver effective, responsive support. By choosing inventory solutions and customer survey tools that integrate natively with our CRM, we can make that information available at scale with minimal or no IT involvement.

Insight and responsiveness

If multiple technologies serve as your system of record, there’s a high likelihood that your data is inaccurate, which creates confusion and delays.

At SICOM, we had four different databases to manage part numbers. Each system recorded the part numbers slightly differently, and despite creating an elaborate system of cheat sheets, this piecemeal approach made inventory management a nightmare.

When we finally consolidated everything on a single holistic system, we found that more than half of our records were duplicates caused by the chaos. Any business decisions we made would have relied on an assumption that we had more than twice the inventory actually in stock.

In addition, we calculate that the new, holistic system of record will decrease the sales-to-shipping timeline by one-third compared to the previous, paper-laden process. For a business that experiences spikes in customer requests, this agility allows us to meet demands quickly while lowering people costs.

Making the shift

Most companies need to shift from a best-of-breed approach to a holistic ecosystem much earlier than they expect. If you have fifty or more people in the company, you’re already starting to invest in the technology assets that will take your business to the next level, and those decisions will have a big impact on your ability to attract and retain customers and scale sustainably.

Now is the time to start evaluating your options in terms of business goals, not departmental needs. Start looking at CRMs that have the capacity to support a complete range of business functions natively. And if the price tag seems high, look at how much it’s costing you to implement and maintain the collection of best-of-breed solutions you rely on today—not just the licensing fees, but the IT support and manual processes required to keep the system going.

 

Here’s the bottom line.

Ask yourself: how well does your technology align with your overarching business goals? If it’s solving problems for a small subset of employees, but failing to deliver 360-degree customer visibility across the organization, it’s time to shift priorities and systems.

 

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