How many systems do you use every day? Putting aside the commonly-understood pitfalls of task switching, working with disparate systems also introduces errors into your processes. When you have to enter data into two or more tools, there’s simply a greater chance that someone will make a mistake. It won’t be intentional, but lack of integration comes with a business risk. To offset this, most cloud systems today are designed with interoperabiliity in mind. Interoperability improves efficiency and minimizes the overhead of double-keying information. Data passes between systems in a structured flow.
The Elements of Successful Business Intelligence Integration
However, the reality is often a little more messy. Mature organizations sometimes have dozens of systems that need integration. New organizations trying to scale have nothing to integrate at all if they’ve been working with spreadsheets. Underpinning all of this is a desire for more and better data. You want to make more use of the data you know must be in all these tools.
That’s where Business Intelligence (BI) comes in. BI systems collate, structure, and present information from any number of tools, showing you the full picture. BI is most effective when it can draw real-time project analytics from those tools – and that brings us back to interoperability and integration.
So where do you start? When you integrate your new BI layer, what are the key systems you should be integrating with or introducing?
Integration Point 1: Project Management System
The first essential point of integration is your project management system. It’s in here that you track projects, tasks, and dependencies. The amount of data captured in project management tools is immense, and project managers benefit from having a BI layer that can automate the routine tasks like regular reporting.
Having all the project management information in one place allows everyone on the team to see the real-time picture of progress. The schedule, risks, issues, and changes can all be managed from the same interface, which becomes a single source of truth for the team and the client.
Watch out for: Project management solutions that don’t integrate with accounting and billing systems risk impacting your margin. It’s important that changes to project schedules are accurately reflected in the way project accounting is managed to provide an accurate and up-to-date picture of the budget at any time.
Integration Point 2: Resource Management System
When you can pull information together through your BI layer, you can integrate information from your resource and project management systems. For example, you can draw together a tailored report to show current resource utilization, forecasted utilization, and the pipeline of incoming work. That could tell you it’s time to recruit some more people to cope with the increase in projects.
An integrated resource management system also lets you test out different resourcing scenarios. Your project managers can use BI tools to forecast in real time, based on likely outcomes for different project situations. You can’t do that efficiently with manually-updated spreadsheets.
Watch out for: Non-integrated time recording systems, which could be costing you money. If your consultants have to go into another system to log their time, they probably only log what was assigned, regardless of how much time they actually spent on a task. A Harvard Business Review analysis reported that inaccurate timesheets are costing businesses billions every day.
Integration Point 3: Collaboration System
With more and more teams choosing to work virtually and flexibly, project collaboration tools have become increasingly important for productivity. You might not think of them as a candidate for integration, but linking up your collaboration tools with the BI layer gives you a rich seam of unstructured and structured data that you can tap for project intelligence.
Watch out for: Collaboration as a buzzword, but not a productive collaboration with a purpose. Integrating collaboration tools with project management tools allows for project-centric collaboration. Conversations can link to tasks or projects. Meaningful collaboration supercharges productivity, so make sure your collaboration system allows for the transparent exchange of information and workspaces designed around a project or client relationship.
Integration Point 4: Project Accounting
Project accounting systems are used for tracking project cost, expenses, and bill rates.
Data insights can be used to inform decisions about future projects – for example, whether or not you should take on a piece of work with prior customers based on what it was like working with them in the past.
However, the data in the system is also helpful to project teams right now, for day-to-day changes. Switching out one resource for another, for example, can impact your margin, and it’s best to know about that as early as possible so you can manage your resource pool effectively.
Watch out for: Disconnecting project accounting from project delivery, which will impact your margins. Often, cost problems aren’t spotted until it’s too late to address the cost issues or pass on increases to a client. As your BI tools can provide you with real-time information midway through a project, you can more easily spot trends and potential leakage – and then act quickly to do something about it.
All these integration points, together with your BI layer, create an Operational System of Record. The BI layer in your business gives you the ability to surface data in a way that helps you make intelligent decisions about current and future projects. It also helps with your real-time data needs.
Whatever you need to know, whenever you need to know it, Business Intelligence can help you access information to help keep your business moving profitably forward.