How smart integrations can fight app bloat without killing capabilities

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We have too many business apps. There, I said it. The enterprise landscape is littered with them as well as half a dozen systems of record attempting to keep track of it all. When it comes to business apps, we have all unknowingly joined the “more is more” club, and all we have to show for it is an embarrassing inability to answer basic questions like, “How are we doing on our most critical initiatives?” or “Are we making the right resourcing investments?”

Clearly, the war to actually know what is happening in our businesses will not be won by throwing more apps at the problem.

Two approaches

In one camp, some knowledge workers are turning to a “less is more” approach. They have instinctively begun to decrease the number of apps they use. Surely, however, this must leave them wanting for capabilities, right? To compensate, they are gravitating toward apps that work smarter and can perform more tasks in one platform. Unfortunately, no one app does it all.

In another camp, knowledge workers are making abundant use of integrations, benefiting from the features of the many apps available while reducing the number of apps they need to actually log into. These workers usually accomplish this in one of two ways: building their own custom, one-off integrations or relying on partners or vendors. Unfortunately, both approaches can be fraught with peril, including delayed time-to-market, inflated costs, and volatile upgrades.

If neither approach provides a satisfactory resolution to the glut of business apps, what is an app-saturated enterprise to do? The true solution may lie in a combination of the two approaches.

One solution to connect all apps

Above all, the solution demands smarter technology—technology smart enough to seamlessly connect all of the business applications in your existing stack to your operational system of record (OSR). When done right, such a solution can produce more work in less time without sacrificing quality. But what would such a solution require?

First, it would have to make integrations easy by eliminating (or at least minimising) the need to code, which is one of the biggest barriers to widespread integration. Certainly, it would have to come equipped with pre-built, standard data connectors to the most common enterprise software solutions. Ideally, integrations with standard business apps could be created with a simple drag-and-drop interface. All of these connectors would need to be automatically updated with the latest capabilities and features to eliminate the need to maintain versions of different application APIs.

Ideally, leading modern work management vendors make it easy for users to integrate hundreds of standard business tools. By keeping the platform code-free and flexible to user needs, these vendors aim to cut the burgeoning costs that usually come with building, maintaining, and supporting integrations. They also hope to prove that integrations done right can actually amplify communication between individuals in teams, instead of get in the way; create additional efficiency between apps, rather than add more layers of complexity.

For a real-world example of this ideal, we need look no further than stalwart department store retailer Nordstrom.

How less is more at Nordstrom

At one of the most iconic department store retailers on the planet, staying competitive in marketing means employing a host of applications and technologies, which includes creative tools from Adobe’s Creative Suite, marketing automation tools, and Nordstrom’s own custom tagging application. In one example of the inefficiencies that popped up between these many application, Nordstrom marketers had to interrupt their projects for 10 minutes daily across 300 projects per week, just to generate IDs for their digital content in this custom tool. What seemed at first like a minor inconvenience quickly added up to many hours of productivity lost.

 

At the same time, the flow of data between their many applications was less connected than the Nordstrom team preferred. This, in turn, affected their ability to report accurately on the progress and effectiveness of their projects and campaigns.

Lost productivity, disconnected data, inaccurate reporting—the marketing team knew that if they were going to eliminate these problems, bringing their slew of tools together would need to become a priority.

Working with their work management solution vendor and a seasoned integration firm, Nordstrom set out to integrate their many tools together, using their work management platform as their central OSR. Its code-free integration interface made this easy. Before long, data was moving seamlessly between Nordstrom’s work management platform, customer support tools, proprietary link generation tool, and the rest of their technology stack. While the number of their work tools and capabilities provided by them had not been reduced, the steps required to coordinate between each one had been cut down dramatically.

This change has allowed Nordstrom’s marketing team to see with unprecedented clarity how to improve the production of the marketing materials, reduce the costs of content production, and pivot swiftly to meet changing marketplace demands. Integration-fueled automation has eliminated forms and the need for manual communications from their processes, all without assistance from their IT department. As a result of these and other new efficiencies, Nordstrom’s marketers report that they have been freed from much of their manual, administrative tasks—the equivalent of 175 man hours per year. These hours have become time that they can refocus on truly value-added tasks.

So, is there something to the “less is more” philosophy? Yes, if you mean less complexity, less app management, without sacrificing the capabilities we all need. I believe that, if done right, integrations can tie together our favourite business apps in a powerful, synergistic web of collaboration and productivity. And then nothing—not a glut of apps nor the pitfalls of your typical integration—can stand between us and finally winning the war to say, “Yes, I know exactly what is happening in my business right now.”

Chris O’Neal, industry research, analysis, and market strategy, Workfront
Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock