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Standardization: Pie in the Sky?

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OK, I’m making the plea one more time—can we please figure out how to integrate IT systems? Why am I so desperate?

On May 5, my telephone rang at 4:00 a.m. An automated message let me know my 9:40 a.m. U.S. Airways flight from New York to Las Vegas for the FMI convention was canceled for later that morning. In my sleepy stupor, I managed to jot down the toll-free number it advised me to call to make alternate arrangements.

Besides becoming instantly resentful that I was doing this cumbersome legwork at this ungodly hour, the call also prompted an “Aha!” moment: We live in the age of innovation, but companies are still missing the mark on systems integration.

One disconnected call and two phone conversations later, I booked myself on a Delta flight for later that afternoon—but not before I repeated my plight to two separate U.S. Air agents. Both asked for my name and flight confirmation, which of course I didn’t have handy in the middle of the night. What irritated me most was that I had to even provide this data.

U.S. Air clearly had a customer list saved in a database somewhere, and this was linked to a data center that placed the automated call to me. Why couldn’t the same telecommunications network link me to a service agent (Hey, I would have pressed “2” if that was a choice) who could have had all of my existing flight information available on her desktop?

Companies constantly complain they are tired of operating with redundant, outdated data. They strive to interlink corporate systems to a centralized platform and database that supports a single, reliable data stream that will streamline operations. But somehow their efforts still tend to fall short—even at retailers.

I think the problem lies in one critical, yet overlooked component—standardization. The only way to achieve this is to know the capacity and functionality of all systems on hand.

Rather than “rip and replace” aging legacy systems, retailers often find it is easier to add point solutions in the quest for systems integration. But when disparate systems vary in age and complexity, it is difficult to know where the weak points or silos lie. Until chains can pinpoint these issues in an effort to standardize data flow, integration efforts will fail.

That’s why retailers need to have constant knowledge of their existing systems—both new and old.

While this is a challenge as more retailers undergo mergers and acquisitions, it is not impossible. Before and after a company purchase, retailers must understand what they are buying. Then they need to examine the commonalities of their existing and newly acquired systems.

And the testing should not end there. With insight into existing systems and applications, retailers can standardize all internal systems and workflow, deploy a single platform, then prepare to integrate systems.

I can’t help but think that if U.S. Air actually connected its systems, I could’ve been alerted to the canceled flight, and already placed on another one. Then U.S. Air could’ve placed an automated call simply seeking my approval for the flight change.

Surely other frustrating experiences are on the horizon. But I anticipate the day when systems integration will actually help to end bad experiences on a high, satisfaction-guaranteed note.

© 2014