Issues & Insights: Put Your Information to Work
- By John Bussert
For years and years, we have been trying to get more data and more information in our database. We want to provide all the information that our users can use, our managers can manage and our business owners will pay for. This task will go on for a long time - more than likely, forever.
Maybe, it is time to provide more in our applications. Data we have. Analysis tools we have. Interaction we have. But, do we have interactivity? I am not talking about data entry where the system validates it. We have had that for a long time. I am talking about integrating the application into our management and decision-making.
Instead of trying to put more information into our systems, why don't we try to make the information that is there more useful? How, you ask? By putting some intelligence into how we use the data that we have - instead of just letting the data reside there until someone runs a report, query or inquiry. Put some action into the system and let it help your business.
Using e-mail as a simple example: When a sales order goes on hold for a credit problem, instead of just putting it on hold, send an e-mail to the sales rep, so she can follow up on it. When a purchase order (PO) is cancelled for some reason, send a note to the rep that their special order PO has been cancelled. If an item gets substituted, send an e-mail asking if that is okay. Then, send an e-mail or fax when the product ships.
We have started to get use to this type of activity with the e-commerce systems we have linked up with. If you have ever purchased from Amazon, you know what I mean. They do a pretty good job of keeping me informed about my orders, backorders, shipments, etc. If you have a relatively reasonable system in place, this capability is not as difficult as it may seem. Already, you can purchase products that will page or e-mail you if a job abends or if something goes wrong with the operations of the system. Why not use the same technique with our applications?
With the use of triggers on the database, stored procedures and business rules, you can start slowly to have data relationships interact with the outside world. There has been so much hype about e-commerce, e-business and the like that many companies are forgetting that they need a good back-end system for all this fancy stuff to work well. If you do not have that, do not spend the time on the "e" part, or you will crash and burn when it comes time to integrate it.
With a good back-end system in place, you can incrementally build tools that allow it to interact with your users and the outside world. If your AR gets too high, send a message to someone, if your AP gets too high, send a message to the bank asking for an extension on your line of credit (just kidding, but you get the point).
On the iSeries (AS/400), there are a number of things we can use that are built in. These tools range from simple SNDPGMMSG or SNDUSRMSG to just send a message if something happens, to more sophisticated e-mail of messages, warnings, spool file reports or activity level happenings. Many are using faxing, today, for order acknowledgements and credit information requests. Why not extend that to link up with your remote sales offices, invoices, ship notifications, etc.?
So, much is being talked about with customer service and customer relationships management, today. And, much of that activity is based on information that you have in your system, and how you use that information to interact with the customer.
Interaction includes all these activities, not just how the sales rep interacts. The whole organization needs to be involved, and they are involved through there interaction with the system!
Start today. Pick a small nagging application and have it do something (like e-mail you) when something happens. If a customer goes on hold, e-mail the sales rep. The first time they see that, they will be flabbergasted. They will also love it. The more "useful" information we can provide on a proactive basis, the better the system. Oh, shoot - I gotta go. I just received an e-mail from the 400 that my job stopped running. Nuts!
John Bussert is President of Swift Technologies (Marengo, Ill.). He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.