This article is reprinted with permission from the Association of Legal Administrators, ©2022. View the original article here: https://www.legalmanagement.org/2022/october/departments/absolute-interoperability-can-make-your-firm-more-efficient.
It’s now common for businesses to have a number of different systems in place for various business functions. However, there’s a strong divide between businesses that have smooth sailing absolute interoperability, where system and data work together, and those that haven’t and either work in siloed systems or use their business information in isolation, despite the applications themselves being integrated.
Whilst interoperability is complex, we can break it down into two key components, technical interoperability through working integrations and data interoperability. Technical interoperability can be achieved alone, whereas data interoperability is dependent on the business workflow integrations, or the mechanics of joint systems.
Many forward-thinking firms have had considerable success technically joining up systems, but to achieve the full potential of interoperability, it’s vital to have good data interoperability. Those that fail to do this, risk exposing themselves to expensive business problems and bad choices.
Why should you care about delivering absolute interoperability?
When you invest in absolute interoperability you unlock an unmatched power and can leverage integrations and data. This gives you a greater business advantage and a higher level of business intelligence. As well as a larger return on investment for the money that you’ve spent on the systems.
If you do it well, you have better knowledge about your business overall, and more importantly, you can trust that the data in front of you is correct, reducing large amounts of business risks, both internally and externally.
It gives your teams, across all departments, the ability to increase efficiency, instead of having to log in and out of various different systems to find the data they’re looking for.
Where does interoperability go wrong?
The main area interoperability can go wrong is when only the first, technical component, is addressed. If you stop here, instead of progressing towards absolute interoperability, you risk failing to consider the most effective solutions to how and where data is captured, passed on and kept up to date in your application ecosystems and how they can work together.
This can lead to huge problems, financially and reputationally, as not only is the data different from system to system but because integrations are in place they are under the false assumption that it’s the same. For example, if your risk system, which typically feeds into your finance system, holds different clients, your firm might miss a conflict even through an otherwise thorough clearing process.
When this occurs not only do your employees become frustrated because the systems aren’t reflecting their actual data and as a result, they can’t make on-the-spot decisions, but if they believe it to be true they could relay it to a client who may then lose trust in your business.
Along with the financial and reputational risks this can bring, the culture of your business can be damaged if the data can’t be trusted and decisions start to be made more by gut instinct.
However, this can all be avoided by obtaining data interoperability, and once it’s in place it empowers you to find and address data issues faster before they lead to unwanted problems.
What’s the benefit of interoperability in practice?
In business, data is king, and when your teams have access to good quality cross-departmental data, the possibilities are (almost) endless, both strategically and operationally to plan for growth, improve efficiencies and ultimately enjoy better financial performance.
Seamless interoperability gives your teams a tool to build stronger client relationships. Having access to information across all department systems enables more productive conversations with clients, showing them they truly understand their needs for today and the future. Plus you can generate a greater return on the investment for your applications.
At an operational level, you can understand elements of the business such as how efficient the firm is across different departments. Meaning you can strive towards making your business more efficient, strengthening teams and generally making good choices for your business.
How can you make your system integrations ready for data interoperability?
A lot of businesses will spend time building a case for a Microsoft-first strategy because they have seen another firm use it, or they assume it will be what’s best for them because it’s the core technology they rely on. Whereas, others will focus on the idea of having a ‘cloud-first strategy’. But instead, they should re-focus on a ‘cloud where it’s sensible’ strategy.
Instead of looking to others, or being stuck in a strategy, the most important thing to consider is how to join data from disparate systems in a way that creates insights that would otherwise be unavailable through a single system. It’s also key to consider if your existing applications are the right ones to go forward with.
These big questions have to be addressed at the start, as existing applications can bring challenges which can be complicated (but not impossible) to solve for interoperability, especially if you have a number of different applications in the cloud and on-premises.
How can a business understand its needs when building for interoperable solutions?
When moving towards interoperability, you need to reverse your planning process and start from the end goal, working backwards from there. The desired business outcome will help to illuminate the process needed for interoperability that’s right for your business.
You should have an effective data strategy that guides you to understand the quality of their data, taking stock of how you surface the data and how to leverage the data joined together from multiple systems. Having powerful data will mean that you can make the most out of interoperability better than you could through a stand-alone application.
When devising your data strategy the key things to consider are, what information you want to surface to your teams and what information you want to surface to stakeholders, as well as your KPIs and management information needs for both external and internal reporting. When you have this clear insight you can better understand how your systems need to interoperate to your needs.