At this point everyone will agree that software systems have permeated all areas of business. From HR to Marketing to Accounting to Customer Relations, every area requires the staff to utilize some tools or application to complete their job. Yet at many, if not most organizations, there are a mash-up of tools in place that always seem to fall short of meeting the organization’s needs. To make matters worse, attempt to correct issues usually involves adding on another tool, which only further obfuscates the situation. So how do organizations end up with such a dysfunctional set of systems, and how can an organization begin to address your app-ocalypse?
Origins of the problem
While generally the issue cannot be connected back to a singular cause, generally one of the following scenarios occurs when an organization ends up with an unorganized application environment.
- Wild West Scenario – Like the actual Wild West, everyone is left to make their own decisions about what IT tools they will use. Often an issue in smaller organizations where people don’t have time to think strategically, staff will just use the first tool they find that solves the immediate issue, without considering other tools already in use or the long term strategy. The result is bits and pieces of information are stored in a range of places without a good way to find content after a project is complete. Additionally, because tools are not standardized, staff have no where to turn when they run into issues. Instead they’re likely to just reach for the next “solution” they find, only further compounding the problem.
- Red Tape Scenario – The opposite of the Wild West, in the Red Tape Scenario no one can ever get access to any of the tools they need. The review process for tools requires people to jump through multiple hoops before going through a long review process. By the time any solution is approved, the problem has likely changed and the solution no longer fits. Additionally, tools that are in place are generally out of date or no longer meet the needs of the organization. In this scenario, the “work-around” becomes common practice, as staff make the tools the currently have complete tasks for which they were not intended, or find applications that allow them to circumvent the review process to assist with the “work-around”. The “work-around” generally requires excessive staff time to complete tasks that could be automated or significantly shortened under the right circumstances.
- Piñata Scenario – This scenario involves a strategic planning process that is disconnected from the organization’s IT capabilities and without any input from the technology team. The reason it’s called the Piñata scenario is because leadership is approaching technology with the same foresight as a blindfolded child approaching a piñata. They’re swinging widely, and if they’re lucky the strategy will connect with the IT capabilities. But, in many cases, it’s a swing and a miss, resulting in staff scrambling to find the technology is able to deliver against the goals in the strategic plan. To make matters worse, this scenario can overlap with the previous two scenarios, further complicating the situation.
Solving the problem
If you’re struggling with an app-ocalypse at your organization, my condolences. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet that will tame this beast. But, there are steps you can take to address the issue.
- Take an inventory – Find out how dire your situation really is by figuring out what tools your staff are using. This should include both apps on on their desktop as well as internet based systems. Ideally, you should also capture what they are using it for. This will likely be a difficult task, as many people don’t realize just how many different systems they use on a given day. It may be helpful to start with a list of basic tasks most people complete, and ask people what they are using for each of those tasks. Things like sharing large files, document editing, creating presentations, and checking email could all in theory be done in multiple ways, and understanding all the ways is a good start.
- Acknowledging the issue – Just because you recognize there’s a problem doesn’t mean everyone else will see it. Bring up the issue to the staff, and point to specific reasons it is a problem. A few common reasons that will likely resonate include the organization spending money on redundant systems, the lack of a centralized database, the inability for staff to share best practices, and staff completing extra work due to inconsistent processes. Ideally the inventory you took will help illustrate the issues.
- Align your objectives – Often an organization’s business strategy and IT strategy are treated as two separate things, when in reality they are actually one and the same. The person responsible for your organization’s IT should be involved in your organization’s strategic planning. When a new initiative is introduced, IT can help identify at a high level how the current systems will be impacted and if new technology will be required. Similarly, as old initiatives come to a close, IT can ensure old systems are sunset in order to free up resources.
- Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) – Having a stated process helps ensures staff stay on the same page. Developing the processes takes time, and should include staff from key areas of the organization, not just IT. Once complete, documents should be shared with all staff and treated as “living” documents that are updated on a regular basis. If the current SOPs don’t address a specific need, a new tool may be added to the mix and new SOPs added to the documentation. If SOPs are not being followed, that presents an opportunity to reflect on whether the processes need to be changed or if staff require further training.
- Encourage Sharing – Find time for your staff to teach each other about your tools. What efficiencies have staff identified for different tools? How have they leveraged a system’s functionality to do more? Getting staff to share creates a more team oriented culture and encourages staff to look to each other for help. This can also help your organization re-enforce the importance of consistent processes by ensuring staff follow the same steps. But it also shows staff that just because there are processes in place, doesn’t mean there isn’t also the opportunity for innovation.
While it’s always tempting to reach for a quick fix with technology, taking more time to make sure you’re being strategic can save you a head ache down the road. So plan ahead and you’ll be much happier with the results.