7/23/2019 8:22:19 AM
How companies waste time bouncing between too many apps
Integration,Company Time,Wasting Time
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App Developer Magazine

How companies waste time bouncing between too many apps



Richard Harris Richard Harris in Enterprise Tuesday, July 23, 2019
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Roger Neel, founder and CTO at Mavenlink, discusses the risk of an abundance of technology across the business and best practices for developing a well-planned integration strategy.

With the speed and complexity of work today, organizations are adopting new applications and technologies built to bring innovative capabilities to the workforce. According to a recent report from Mavenlink, this influx of applications designed to improve efficiency has actually had the opposite effect when poorly integrated and implemented.

In their attempt to simplify, streamline and propel business, organizations are actually finding themselves with a hairball infrastructure - a tangled map of disconnected applications and systems. This creates a number of problems, such as increased manual workloads, lack of visibility across systems/apps, concerns about data accuracy, and a potential loss of revenue.

73% spend more than 1 hour per day on average navigating from app to app. With 100 billable resources on a team at $150/hour, that’s $15k lost in potential revenue per day. 72% say data quality as a top BI challenge - meaning companies are working with unreliable data.

We had a conversation with Roger Neel, CTO at Mavenlink, who discusses the risk of an abundance of technology across the business and best practices for developing a well-planned integration strategy.

ADM: What is a hairball infrastructure and why is it a problem for today’s organizations?

Neel: As varying needs across departments arise, it's easy to fall into the trap of a "hairball" infrastructure. This is a complicated mess of software tools that offer several different, potentially overlapping services. These tools might also have problems integrating.

All companies need a number of systems to operate effectively. The issue is that some of these systems work together and some don’t. Because these systems don’t talk to one another, the company isn’t really operating optimally. Adding to the problem is the fact that many organizations even have duplicate systems in use by different departments. 

There is a lot of inefficiency in using all these systems. All of the data moving back and forth makes it difficult to gain visibility into operations. Simply put, a hairball infrastructure complicates running a business. For example, according to a recent survey from Mavenlink, 73% of respondents spend more than 1 hour per day on average navigating from app to app. With 100 billable resources on a team at $150/hour, that’s $15k lost in potential revenue per day.

Top implications of an abundance of technology across the business

ADM: How does the hairball infrastructure impact different teams across the organization?

Neel: Companies all have a myriad of systems that don’t necessarily integrate with one another. With this network of systems that do not cooperate, it becomes difficult to share data across departments. Exacerbating this problem is an increasingly distributed workforce. If an audit team in North America uses one system, but a team in Europe uses a different system, the data from those systems will end up in silos. Another example is larger companies that often purchase solutions for just part of their company. Other parts of the company that do not use that solution may have difficulty sharing information with the portions of the company that do have the new technology.

A hairball infrastructure makes it very difficult for different teams across the organization to effectively communicate and share data with one another.

ADM: What are the signs that an organization is working with a hairball infrastructure?

Neel: Signs of a hairball infrastructure include a lack of visibility into projects and the resources needed to complete those projects. Companies that have more systems than they know what to do with or increasingly siloed data repositories are likely working with a hairball infrastructure.

Double entry is another sign of a hairball infrastructure. Oftentimes we see spreadsheets used to extract data from one system to be put into another system or used by themselves as a cross-system reporting tool. This is a big sign of a hairball infrastructure and a huge, often hidden, time sink for many companies. 

ADM: What are the top implications of an abundance of technology across the business?

Neel: Increased manual workloads, lack of visibility across systems and apps, concerns about data accuracy and potential loss of revenue are some of the major implications of a hairball infrastructure. There is also a cost impact: If a company is using three different project management software solutions, it is paying for three different solutions.

Systems integration is really hard and costly

ADM: How is visibility across systems and data accuracy impacted by the abundance of applications and systems?

Neel: Organizations, but more importantly large enterprise services organizations that leverage ERP, SaaS, and other cloud services typically have a proliferation of information silos, creating cloud integration complexities across the business. Integrating SaaS platforms in a modern service organization means dealing with many bespoke systems that were built for integration with a specific solution.

By bridging core planning, execution, project accounting, and analysis systems in a single operating environment, organizations are able to experience dramatically better visibility, predictability, and agility. This type of digital infrastructure becomes the heart of the organization and can improve processes by packaging up best practices into frameworks, guidelines, analytics, and insights required to successfully operate a fast-moving services firm today. When 72% of respondents to our survey say data quality is a top BI challenge, it’s clear that much is getting lost in the shuffle between applications and systems.

The simple answer is: systems integration is really hard and costly. The likelihood you have visibility and data accuracy within a hairball infrastructure is low. If a company performs integration and data comes over automatically, great. But that’s expensive. If a company is doing it manually, human error reduces accuracy. 

ADM: Why is a well-planned integration strategy important for improving efficiency across an organization?

Neel: When an organization has a well-planned integration strategy, it reduces silos, improves system accuracy, and enables better visibility across teams. Furthermore, when companies build integration plans that are adaptable to future changes, it is less likely they will run into a hairball tech stack as they change and replace existing technologies.

ADM: What steps should an organization take to ensure that their integration strategy is the right fit for their business?

Neel: Plan well, and try to end up with the minimum number of systems required to meet a need, even if some sacrifices have to be made. Maybe an iPod is specifically built to play music, but the iPhone has more features, so you can give up an item and only carry one around. Generally speaking, simpler is better. Decide on the lightest-weight integration as possible, and you’ll start out on the right foot.

Roger Neel is an advocate for technology solutions that deliver business value

About Roger Neel

A software expert with over 12 years in the industry, Roger is an advocate for technology solutions that deliver business value. He brings expertise and best practices insight across industries in the areas of content management, knowledge management, and social networking applications. As CTO, Roger directs the product and engineering decisions of Mavenlink.

An accomplished web app designer, Ruby on Rails engineer, and thought leader in agile software development, Roger has worked with and advised a range of companies: from newly-formed startups to nationally recognized products and brands such as Apple, 3M, and Bank of America. He helped advise new product development and engineering while part of the Sales and Partners team for integrated knowledge management platform InQuira (acquired by Oracle in 2011), where he met fellow Mavenlink co-founders Ray Grainger and Sean Crafts.

Outside of leading the Mavenlink engineering team, Roger dedicates his time to mentoring startup founders and software developers. He is passionate about sharing his insight and advice with others when it comes to navigating the critical cross-section between business and technology. He was an early adopter and an advocate for the Lean Startup movement and pair programming principles. Roger carries a B.A. in Computer Science and Economics from Cornell University.