Integration and automation are mission critical for connection

Many organizations have created pockets of automation, but integration and automating at scale remain huge challenges.

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Businesses need smart, up-to-date, accessible information to make quick and meaningful connections with customers. This is a no-brainer. Still, the way digital transformation has evolved over the last few years hasn’t been a singular path. Accurate, actionable data requires both integration and automation—the unification of people, systems, and information. And while many companies have done a fair job of automation, or at least simple RPA, the process of integration and automation at scale, throughout the enterprise, has remained a huge challenge. Yet, it is mission critical in today’s business environment.

The disjointed approach

In the last decade, as digital transformation has moved forward, departments in organizations have done so at their own speed. In Futurum’s 2020 Digital Transformation Survey, we found some departments such as marketing and IT were better equipped to handle digital transformation than others—accounting, for example. Each department has been operating in a silo, buying software and hardware as needed. Silo walls are getting higher and higher as more advanced technologies like AI and automation join the tech stacks. Each department is moving forward as needed, but they are all missing the integrated part of the picture. Without full buy-in, integration of processes, and advanced technologies, a business isn’t operating at its fullest potential.

And these gaps in business-critical information are the very things that are holding today’s businesses back. They make it virtually impossible for leadership to get a real-time view of business performance—and more importantly, what they should be doing about that performance, however good or bad it may be.

Why integration matters

It’s easy to understand why automation has received more attention than integration on the digital transformation scale. After all, automation is something we can attach a certain value to. We understand that by using AI to answer customer service inquiries, we’re able to respond to X percent greater customer needs per day. We can physically see how many fewer errors are made when computers design, count, or build a system, in comparison to human effort. Thus, investing in automation often seems to make clear sense.

Integration, on the other hand, feels messy. It requires human-centered cooperation. It requires humans to agree on the use of certain software, terminology, classification, and truth. And humans are not always excited about that task.

Still, integration is essential for companies hoping to not just survive but connect with their customers in meaningful ways. For instance, a retail company with an incomplete view of its customers will never be able to provide a truly personalized customer journey. When the customer’s buying habits are locked up with accounts receivable and the marketing team is flooding that customer with messages fully unrelated to those purchases, the customer becomes frustrated. Rather than the relationship becoming stronger through data automation, it becomes weaker due to data disconnection. Sure, they may have gotten their product faster, but they still feel unappreciated.

There are many ways to fall behind in digital transformation. We often think of being a digital laggard as simply not having the latest technology for one’s industry. However, technology is just one part of the digital transformation process. It requires completely new—unified—ways of thinking about business, new processes that work with hyper-automation strategies, qualified workers, and, of course, security. Skipping any piece of the whole digital transformation puzzle will leave you lagging.

Daniel Newman is a founding partner and Principal Analyst of Futurum Research

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