5 Business Systems Goals for 2019

It’s that time of year again: whether personal or professional, everyone is setting goals for the coming twelve months.

For business systems leaders, it’s a great time to take a step back and reassess where you are—and where you’re headed. On a macro level, you’re responsible for helping scale the business by delivering robust internal applications, tools, bots, and real-time integrations to support lines-of-business teams. But after a busy year, it’s always good to take time to refocus on your most important priorities.

In the spirit of helping you home in on these big-picture goals, here are five goals that should guide your initiatives in 2019—and some tips for achieving them.

Related: 4 automation trends that every business systems professional should know

1 ) Focus on simplifying processes first.

Why do it:

Ultimately, people expect business systems experts to help them work smarter, not harder. In a world where the average enterprise now uses 1,935 apps (a 15% increase from 2017), this objective is harder to achieve than ever before. You know better than anyone that there are a multitude of specialized tools for every business function imaginable.

The Harvard Business Review underlines the damaging effect that unnecessary complexity can have on workplace productivity—and morale:

“Over the past several years we have heard hundreds of managers talk about the negative impact of complexity on both productivity and workplace morale. This message has been reinforced by the findings of major CEO surveys conducted by IBM and KPMG, both of which identified complexity as a key business challenge.”

Kumud Kokal, former Head of Business Systems at both Airbnb and Intuit, agrees and stresses that for business systems professionals, process simplification should come before anything else.

“I’ve always believed that technology enables the process and not the other way around,” he says. “Ensure that your processes are well defined and simplified as much as possible, before worrying about the technology. A convoluted process with the best technology is still a recipe for failure. Having a well defined, repeatable and scalable process is the first step.”

How to make it happen:

Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink and a simplification expert, encourages every Head of Business Systems to consider eliminating processes with no clear organizational value.

“Ask ‘Who will miss this?’ Before simplifying a process or procedure, break it down into steps and identify who benefits from the information. If the answer is consistently “no one,” or “it’s just a nice thing to have,” just eliminate the process altogether,” she says.

Though it may sound obvious, it always helps to ask the “W” questions:

  • What is the ideal outcome of this process?
  • Who primarily interacts with this process?
  • Why is the process currently structured this way?
  • Which steps are necessary? Which are nice-to-have? Which are extraneous?

Similarly, Kokal suggests that mapping out a process can help you identify which improvements you should prioritize.

“At Intuit, the work that I was most privileged to be a part of as Head of Business Systems centered around mapping the employee journey,” he recalls. “We built a process map of the entire hire-to-retire process, identifying the key moments of truth where you can create delight. Those were the areas we focused on improving.”

2) Integrate disparate technologies.

Why do it:

A key aspect of simplifying processes is making sure that different tech stacks—like your MarTech stack and your sales tech stack—are exactly that: cohesive bundles of apps and systems that work together seamlessly. If employees have to deal with disparate systems, it automatically adds another layer of complexity to common tasks.

This complexity is exponentially worse, Kokal says, at companies that are growing rapidly.

“[When we integrated our candidate system with our core HR system], it helped the recruiting and the HR operations team keep up with the headcount growth,” he illustrates. “As a result, these teams were able to focus on more strategic work related to recruiting, rather than matching data across systems or manually checking on approvals. As an added benefit, it lead to a much higher employee engagement of the members of these teams.”

Integration is also a prescient concern when it comes to facilitating business intelligence. Often, the biggest barrier to making data-driven decisions is: how do you get the data, when it’s housed in multiple siloed apps?

How to make it happen:

Even though lines-of-business employees face problems that could be solved through integration, few realize how accessible the technology actually is.

Many Heads of Business Systems say that the perception of integration among lines-of-business employees can sometimes feel like it’s stuck in the past. These employees frequently won’t champion a back-end integration system because they think it won’t solve an immediate problem for them—and there’s a perception that integrating business systems is really hard and complex. They don’t realize that faster, more user-friendly tools exist.

This makes it crucial for systems professionals to champion integration solutions that can deliver value quickly, at low TCO—rather than ones that are esoteric, code-heavy, and slow to implement.

Thankfully, the as-a-service model has radically changed integration. Instead of relying on armies of in-house developers to custom-code integrations, companies can now rely on an iPaaS platform to do the heavy lifting. Some platforms even allow users to re-use integrations created by other companies with similar needs and bundle integrations for key business functions together into easy-to-implement starter kits. This makes it much easier for lines-of-business users, IT, and the Head of Business Systems to collaborate on implementation.

Ultimately, it’s important for the business systems team to adequately communicate the value of these tools to lines-of-business users. If they can demonstrate how integration can significantly improve a team’s day-to-day job—that it can free them up to do much higher-level work than mind-numbing data entry—systems experts can show them the real-life ROI of integration.

3) Improve your governance.

Why do it:

Strong governance is crucial in an age where enterprises have a mandate to take security seriously. According to Gartner, shadow IT accounts for 30-40% of IT spending in large enterprises. Gartner also predicts that, by 2020, one-third of successful attacks experienced by enterprises will be targeted at their shadow IT resources.

That’s a serious concern for companies that value security and privacy, so any Head of Business Systems should prioritize making sure that governance is up to par in 2019.

At the same time, many employees will agree that governance is fundamentally broken—that’s why they turn to shadow IT in the first place.

“Your employees know how to make your company more efficient and their jobs more productive better than any vendor, sales rep, security expert or infrastructure team,” notes Pieter VanIperen, an independent security architect. “Find out why those users have turned to [shadow IT], and what gaps there are. Make sure it’s not your process for getting a tool that is too complicated.”

As the liaison between lines-of-business users and IT, the Head of Business Systems should play a key role in redefining how governance works for their organization. With direct access to all the major stakeholders, they can work towards creating governance systems that work for everyone.

How to make it happen:

“To eliminate the problem of Shadow IT, we need to start with what causes it to occur in the first place. Simply put, it comes down to enterprise IT not serving business needs well enough,” says Everest Group CEO Peter Bendor-Samuel. “Typically, the IT group is too slow or not responsive for the appetite of business users, too costly and doesn’t align well with the business needs.”

Business systems professionals can lend invaluable support to IT as they try to work more efficiently. By rethinking processes, systems experts can help implement governance that’s faster and more responsive to the needs of the business.

On a broader level, they can also play an important role as a facilitator. For many Heads of Business Systems, getting everyone together in a room is part of their weekly routine.

These meetings can include the systems team, the security team, and any other relevant  teams (such as the contracts team) so they can discuss what’s in the pipeline: who wants to buy what, where it might fit in the organization’s infrastructure, and what they know about the tool that the purchaser might not know yet.

Leaders like the Head of Business Systems and teams like IT are much more tuned in to potential security issues, like the flow of data and requirements like GDPR—things that someone on the marketing team who’s looking to purchase an app might not think about.

Regular meetings also give the systems team a chance to be more proactive in guiding governance that works for everyone. Often, IT review doesn’t happen until much later in the procurement process—so liaising between them and business teams often can help systems experts set better expectations and communicate their concerns more easily.

4) Boost your data quality.

Why do it:

Along with the proliferation of technology in the enterprise, there’s also a push to deliver experiences—for customers and employees—faster than ever before. But when it comes to decision-making, organizations don’t just want to make fast decisions; they want to make good ones.

The best way to do this is by utilizing actual data. A recent Forrester report indicates that data-driven companies grow at an average of more than 30% annually, putting them on track to earn $1.8 trillion by 2021.

At the enterprise level, however, data tends to be vast, complex, and fairly messy. If you’re dealing with siloed systems, fragmented data can hamper your company’s ability to access insights on every level, from C-suite decision-making to lines-of-business planning.

How to make it happen:

As mentioned earlier, one of the easiest ways to boost data quality is through automation and integration. These technologies can streamline the flow of data across all of an organization’s apps, which helps simplify processes by cutting out manual work.

It can also increase accuracy, as it eliminates the need to rely on humans to input vast quantities of data.

“By automating the data flow between our candidate system and the core HR system, we were able to eradicate 24+ Excel/Google Sheets, save upwards of 100 manual hours of work each week, reduce our error rate by more than 65% and create a SOC compliant process that met the needs of internal auditors,” Kokal recalls about his time as Head of Business Systems at Airbnb.

5) Automate manual tasks whenever possible.

Why do it:

If your organization is currently growing—as most organizations are—automation is crucial to fulfilling Goal #1: simplifying processes.  

“In a smaller company, [you can implement scalable processes with a] small team of people,” Kokal notes.

“However, in a hypergrowth environment, you cannot afford to solve the problem just by adding more people. This is where technology and automation are critical. Given the growth we were experiencing at Airbnb, it became obvious that we have to automate our processes for us to scale and keep up with the growth of the organization.”

How to make it happen:

Just as with integration, automation platforms now offer an as-a-service approach to the technology, which eliminates the need for brittle scripting and costly developers.

But what should a Head of Business Systems automate first?

Kokal suggests finding processes that are key to the employee experience and making those a priority.

“Integration and automation are some of the best areas to invest in for a company, as they make teams more efficient and effective,” he says.

“They’re invaluable in tying together the apps and processes within (and around) the employee journey […] This leads to higher employee engagement all around. These engaged employees are more productive, they build better products and services, which leads to more satisfied customers and higher revenue.”

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