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Making data easier to digest

Most finance workers are accustomed to the time-consuming process of accessing multiple systems to perform their daily tasks. But could there be a better way? Here, Daneel De Villiers, managing director of the SAP consulting specialist, De Villiers Walton, explains how adding a simple browser-based interface to enterprise software can make it significantly easier for users to interact with these back-end systems

For day-to-day users, enterprise systems are a necessary and integral part of everyday working life. Yet, for banking, finance and other enterprise software users, the requirement to draw data from different and often complex systems is not only extremely time-consuming, but may also make managing and executing essential business processes much more difficult.daneel de villiers

Now, as many customer relationship management (CRM) users are starting to recognise, investment in simplifying end-to-end processes and data access is an effective way to support users in fulfilling essential daily activity in other areas of business.

Universal possibilities

In the hectic world of sales, the arduous nature of some CRM systems has proven to be a burden for many sales teams. Since many sales professionals do not see the benefits of using CRM applications, they reject these systems and only enter the absolute minimum data required to satisfy management needs. This is especially true for users who do not have the time or the focus to absorb training on the usage of CRM applications.

To overcome this challenge, some organisations have adopted a “Composite Application”approach. A Composite Application links multiple underlying systems together through user-friendly interfaces. It embraces existing business processes and presents data to the users in a language that they are familiar with. This approach has proven to be extremely effective and has in some cases improved system usage up to 200-fold.

This approach not only works in the CRM spacebutcan be used to optimise other business processes as well.

It’s not just about CRM…

If you look at the traditional procurement process (Purchase Requisition to Purchase Order to Goods Receipt), users from all areas of business are occasionally required to interact with a small number of transactions in the underlying enterprise system.Managing the workflow in this scenario is a significant challenge because it is easy for the user community to lose track of where they are within the process.

In some enterprise systems, adding timesheets or expenses claims can be very difficult because of the complicated user interfaces that are available to occasional users. Once again, the workflows around these business processes are tedious to manage through traditional enterprise systems.

Another example is Talent Management applications,which require data from a variety of back-end systems (HR, Training and Performance Review systems) to be brought together into a single application. This application is occasionally used by employees from all areas of business throughout the year as different HR business processes are executed (e.g. Personal Development Plans, Performance Appraisals and Salary Reviews). Furthermore, laptops, desktops and other devices must have cumbersome front-end applications installed in order for users to interact with the back-end applications.

All these scenarios have the following in common: they are all business processes that require a large number of users to occasionally interact with a relatively small number of transactions across a disparate systems landscape.

Implementing a fit-for-purpose, thin-client user interface, which seamlessly binds together back-end processes and applications can be used in all these scenarios. This approach makes it far easier and efficient for users to interact with the underlying back-end systems. In turn, users become more productive and motivated to adhere to and complete business processes.Since users are only required to enter the data that is needed in the terminology they are familiar with, this method of process optimisation has the added advantage that it significantly improves data quality.

In addition, by providing the user with an interface to a business process in language that is familiar, the cost of user training and technical support is reduced. It also allows the users to focus on the core business processes (rather than the technology) and through improvements in efficiency, contributes to the profitability of the company.

Straight to business

In one recent project, for example, the procurement process was simplified by consolidating purchasing data from eight different back-end systems into a single Composite Application.Now, rather than being forced to continuously access a variety of systems for each procurement workflow, users simply access one application that automatically interacts with the required back-end systems as necessary.

The impact of this approach on the users was simply one of time saving, albeit a significant time saving. The impact on the business as a whole however was much more significant.Timely procurement approvals meant that projects could start on time,thus saving the company millions of Euros.

Generating accurate data once and at source also has a positive impact on other areas of business. In professional services, for example, time and expenses data is commonly fed into the billing system to generate customer invoices. It is also used to calculate employee bonus payments. Here, ensuring that the source data is as accurate as possible will ultimately optimise cash-flow.

For management, using this approach to integrate performance management solutions with HR systems in an end-to-end workflow enables faster decisions to be made on sales bonuses or salary review cycles for instance, based on clear and accurate performance data.

Strategic approach

As IT landscapes continue to become more complex and expand to include ERP, CRM, HR, Business Intelligence and other advanced enterprise software systems, the occasional user community may easily be confused by the need to draw data from multiple sources. Replacing this with a singleComposite Application with a simplified user interface not only brings these systems together for the user, but it will also simplify the actual business process involved, making the data easier to consume and understand, and the workflow much easier to manage and execute.

The ultimate aim of building processes that centralise access to data across enterprise software is to ensure that the workforce is working as effectively as possible. Put simply, providing easy access to the right data, at the right time and at the right point in the process, puts the user in a much better position to provide data that will support higher quality business decisions and save money.