How many times do you, or anyone in your company, enter the same piece of information? And even worse, how much of it is not even shared?
There have been many times when I start with a new client and uncover that several people in the company are maintaining similar spreadsheets, but for very different uses. And to make matters worse, the information they are entering manually is being obtained from another application on their system. In this scenario three employees entering the same information in three different places, on a recurring basis.
This wastes time and money.
At the very least the company needs better internal communication so that the data is shared rather than everyone maintaining their own data set. The best solution is to have the data centrally located and accessable from the first application and specific reports based on everyone’s individual needs.
This saves time and money.
The first step to achieving centralized data is to understand who needs what. Information requirements vary between departments and roles, so you need to speak with each person in your organization to get the best possible picture of how your system should work.
The second step is to identify where that data is located. The typical databases for any company include:
- Sales (Customer Relationship Management – CRM, or Sales-force Automation – SFA)
- Marketing (CRM)
- Address books (usually Outlook)
- Email/Newsletter subscribers (such as Constant Contact)
The third step is to research how your applications may communicate with each other as well as their reporting capabilities. Everyday I find a new “plug-in” or “add-on” to popular applications that help them easily transfer data between other applications. Outlook has many plug-ins to many of the other applications listed above, and is a good place for your data to be entered. Additionally, many accounting programs have direct links to CRM programs, so either data can be entered into either application, and it automatically updates the other one.
Another option for transferring data between applications is the old export/import feature. The common denominator in file formats is “comma separated values” otherwise known as .CSV, and almost every application can read and write a .CSV file. It is more efficient to export the data from one application and import it into a second application than it is to re-enter the data – even small amounts of data. One reason is to prevent data entry errors another reason is to save time.
The forth step is to create the workflow for the data. Regardless of how you need to transfer the data between applications, it is important to understand where the data originates so that it flows to all the appropriate other locations. Here are some examples.
- Start with Outlook, transfer to CRM and Constant Contact, then CRM can transfer to Accounting when the contact buys
- Start with E-Commerce, transfer to Accounting, transfer to CRM and Outlook, transfer to Contact Contact
- (Some of these steps can be circumvented if you utilize plug-ins or add-ons. For example, many CRM and Accounting applications can utilize Outlook as the email client and send email messages directly from the applicaiton, negating the need for the contact to be in Outlook.)
The last step is to create the reports from the appropriate application. Here are some examples.
- Sales forecasts – CRM
- Client account balances – Accounting
- Inventory items – Accounting
- Opportunity tracking – CRM
- Sales history – Accounting and/or E-Commerce
- Marketing ROI – CRM, Accounting, and/or Constant Contact
Although all these applicationscome with canned reports, and many of the allow some level of customizations, there may be times when the they fall short of your needs. In that case consider stand-alone report writers that can read the data directly to mix and match it with the applications and across the applications. One of the most popular report writers is Business Objects’ Crystal Reports, but there are several others including Stonefield Query, R&R Report Writer, and Kirix Strata (”The data browser”).
And for everyone who cannot live without spreadsheets, most applications offer the feature to convert their reports to spreadsheet formats. This can also be an option for working with data across applications by including data from different sources in the same spreadsheet, or workbook.
The return-on-investment (ROI) from the time you spend evaluating your data – where it is, who is using it, and how it is being used – will be felt continuously once you centralize your data, eliminate duplicate data entry, and easily produce the specific reports that meet everyone’s needs. With smooth data workflow, the data is entered once, transferred to or accessed by multiple applications, and winds up at the fingertips of the people who need it, not only when they need it, but how they need it.