Interoperability – referring to when software from different third-party suppliers interacts and shares information in real-time without human intervention – is transforming the world of work in ways scarcely imaginable even a decade ago.
From accounting to HR, to sales and CRM, businesses often rely upon dozens of different systems to function effectively. However, with traditional software integration, companies are often left with the difficult choice of either sourcing all of these systems through the same provider – an often-unfeasible prospect – or losing time and money by continually manually transferring information across a number of different systems and providers. If only the systems would speak the same language, communicate with one another, and simply work together.
Given these pain points, it is clear that businesses recognise the increasingly critical importance of interoperability in today’s digital-first world of work. Indeed,?99% of business leaders report? that when implementing new digital systems interoperability is an important consideration, indicating that demand for interoperable systems is only set to grow over the coming years.?
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the rising importance of interoperability and how it applies to businesses.
By keeping data in sync between different systems, interoperability saves significant time, reduces onerous manual data entry, and even improves productivity.
For example, before interoperability, organisations would need to enter the same information across every individual database used by the business – whether this is payroll, HR, or CRM. Interoperability, through enabling these systems to essentially ‘talk’ to one another, ensures that a business only needs to input information once, with the data then replicated across all systems used by the business automatically.
This benefit can be illustrated through a real-world example pertinent to this time of year. Specifically, Further Education (FE) institutions see a major spike in workload in the Autumn as they must manage student enrolments for the new academic year.
In our experience working with numerous FE partners, each annual enrolment might mean anything from 20,000-40,000 new students; all of whom must be entered into the institution’s myriad systems individually. In the past, this would need to be done in each individual system, taking dozens of hours and leaving the significant potential for human error. With interoperability, staff would only need to enter the information once and it would automatically update in all other systems, saving significant time and reducing the risk of error.
More generally, by freeing up staff time from countless hours of monotonous data entry, interoperable systems can also make the day-to-day roles of many within the business, such as finance teams simultaneously more fulfilling for those who perform them and more productive for the businesses they service.
By essentially automating onerous, repetitive tasks like re-keying, interoperability frees up significant staff resources that can be reallocated towards more interesting, strategic work that has a real impact on the company’s bottom line and long-term prospects.
Before interoperability, the de facto standard for integrating multiple software systems was through classic integration, wherein systems sharing the same data structure are able to use one database. However, it is highly unlikely that modern systems will share this data structure unless they all come from the same supplier, which is prohibitively costly and restrictive for the needs of many businesses.
Importantly, interoperability means that organisations are not restricted to purchasing their suite of software products from the same supplier to ensure they can work in sync, as is all too often the case with integrated systems. Modern, interoperable web services allow information to be shared between systems regardless of provider.
On top of the evident financial benefits of being able to shop around, rather than being tied to any one provider, logistically it is virtually unfeasible to expect one supplier to effectively meet the needs of each and every department within a business, which often have countless IT systems in operation. Interoperability elegantly sidesteps this challenge, allowing companies to pick and choose software that best fits the need of each specific department, user, and set of organisational objectives.
Looking also at the process of manual data entry, which is ubiquitous across virtually every business in some form or other, we must consider the unavoidable potential for human error – a recurrent pain point. With the best will in the world, no human employee consigned to hours of repetitive data entry is immune to an unintentional mistake in a document from time to time, which can have potentially-major ramifications for a business if these errors should go unnoticed.
For example, a stray decimal place in a profit and loss document can mean thousands in missing revenues, which then require further resources to investigate and correct. Interoperability again solves this issue by significantly cutting down on the levels of data entry required, minimising the potential for mistakes.
Finally, another critical pain point alleviated by interoperable software is disaster recovery. Namely, if an integrated system should suffer an issue, outage or external threat such as a cyberattack, businesses run the risk of their entire operation suffering a temporary collapse, which may cause crippling financial and reputational damage. However, if businesses are able to diversify their software suite – made possible through interoperability – any issue or outage is quickly compartmentalised, allowing other areas of the business to function as normal.
While interoperability may seem a far-flung future concept to many, the truth is that interoperable systems have grown rapidly in a business context and are already transforming how businesses operate and share data in ways unimaginable even a decade ago. Indeed, in our industry interoperability is now cited as a requirement on virtually all tender documents from prospects.
The reason behind this rapid adoption is primarily feasibility. More simply, businesses now see, and believe, the transformative impact interoperability can have on their operations, having not believed this way of working was possible previously and instead opting for conventionally integrated systems, often to their detriment.
Because of this belief, more and more businesses are waking up to the numerous benefits of interoperable software – significant time and cost savings, safeguarding against risk, reduced human error, and more motivated, satisfied teams – to the benefit of all.
As we continue to move towards the remote-first, digitally-enabled world of work, it is clear that interoperability will only grow in importance. Subsequently, for businesses wishing to remain in tune with the needs of the modern world of work, it will soon be a case of not whether they can afford to invest in interoperable systems, but whether they can feasibly afford not to.