Driving Productivity with Internal Business Systems

Being busy and being productive are two different things.

I am constantly trying to figure out ways to spend less time doing the things I have to do so that I can have more time for the things I want to do. This isn’t any major revelation — you probably all are too. But for me to get there, I find I have to use a variety of tools; this applies not just to my work life but also my personal life.

I recently composed a list of all the tools and systems that I use at work and was astounded at how long the list was so I broke it up into the following initial categories:

  • Me — these are tools that I use to make myself more productive
  • Team — tools|systems my team uses to be more productive
  • Organization wide — enterprise tools|products|systems used by multiple teams across the organization for various critical functions

My main goals for this exercise were to: 1. Understand how many tools and what they were. 2. Understand what need each tool met. 3. If possible, consolidate|eliminate some of the tools 4. Identify if there was a gap i.e. an unmet need.

In future posts, we’ll talk more about the exercise itself and the various tools, but I really wanted to focus on the last category. Let’s call the tools in this category “internal business systems.” If you were to look at this category you’d find the following types of systems:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Accounting
  • HR
  • Ticketing
  • Content and Document Management
  • Email marketing
  • Etc.

This list isn’t unique to my organization. You probably use many of them (and others) at yours. The internal business systems used at companies add all sorts of value. In fact, in most cases they are critical for the company to operate. Could you imagine trying to keep track of all the accounts receivable and payable without an accounting system or the information about your customers without some sort of CRM or sending out an email to a million recipients via Outlook instead of an email marketing solution? They can contribute heavily towards the performance of the employees but whether it has a positive or negative effect depends on how good the user experience is and how well these solutions are customized to meet their needs.

Here’s what I haven’t told you yet. While I am, in fact, a user of many of those systems, I have an interest in them from another angle too. I head up a team at ITHAKA that really cares about enabling the staff in our organization to get the most out of those systems.

Being busy and being productive are two different things.

And our team really wants productive employees. We want them spending as little time as possible doing the tasks they need to do. We spend a lot of time trying to understand the internal work processes of our colleagues and the needs of our various employees as they strive to meet their goals. We use that information to build or extend a solution to allow them to work efficiently; and then master the functionality of the systems so that we can expertly support them.

Here’s how we describe what we do to support our team working on JSTOR

We have various resources (either on the team or as cross functional resources) that help us in this regard:

  • Software engineers to build and extend the solutions
  • Systems engineers to ensure that we have a robust architecture and systems that hum along
  • Product managers to spend lots of time with our users creating a vision for the system via discovery and then putting that into reality via delivery
  • Support specialists to master our systems and expertly support them
  • QA to ensure we deliver quality products quickly
  • UX to ensure we are releasing usable products

Aside from talking to the users, we also collaborate with many of the teams that work on our external customer-facing software products and platforms and share many of the practices, tools and technology with them. We normally have a strong advantage because we know exactly who our users are (some of them are sitting right next to us!) and so can spend lots of time on discovery with them while we are doing regular product delivery (see dual track agile).

The services that we provide weren’t always there. Our team is only three and a half years old and we’ve learned a lot over that time. We will share with you our experiences through those years and the new experiences we encounter every day.

I still remember the days when many of these systems were homeless. They didn’t have someone giving them the tender loving care they needed. Maintenance was either infrequent or non-existent; extensions and customization were the same and when they happened were large traditional IT projects that involved external consultants; our users didn’t have someone with expert knowledge of the system to go to and so underutilized|misused it and didn’t benefit from the speedy dedicated support they receive now.

We don’t miss those days. We continue to look for ways that we can improve business processes and enhance our internal business systems; and to allow employees to be productive rather than just busy.

What are the key internal business systems at your company? How do you support the users of those systems and ensure they gain the most value out of them?

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