Connecting The Last Mile Of Enterprise Software

Marc Aubin

When it comes to operationalizing customer lifecycle processes supported by enterprise software, many organizations struggle to meet the unique needs of different business units. A centralized, one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t cut it, and individual groups increasingly need to augment core system data to meet specific customer needs.

Enter last-mile data management solutions.

The notion of last-mile delivery comes from industries such as logistics and telecommunications. In logistics, the last mile is defined as the movement of goods from a distribution facility to its final destination. In telecommunications (phone, Internet, cable TV), it’s about connecting the last fiber-optic cable from the telephone pole to the home or business.

In both cases, the focus is on delivering a positive experience for the end customer. For logistics, this means on-time, hassle-free delivery. For cable TV providers, it means 100% uptime and availability with a seamless experience that allows customers to access the content they want.

The challenge is to strike a balance. On the one hand is a complex, standardized system on the back end (the logistics or telecom network), which represents a significant investment. On the other hand is the desire to connect your users to this standardized system over the last mile in a way that is both scalable and relevant to the user – regardless of diverse conditions and requirements.

The scourge of spreadsheets

All of this informs the challenges faced with enterprise software implementations, where last-mile delivery focuses on extending and scaling processes to meet the diverse needs of individual users, especially as they change over time.

One of the primary causes of enterprise software failure is low user adoption and its impact on data quality. A primary obstacle to higher adoption is the inflexibility of enterprise systems to meet last-mile delivery requirements. To fill the gap, users typically resort to spreadsheets. But spreadsheet-based processes are far from scalable. They’re insecure, inconsistent, and ill-suited for complex data structures. They take data outside of the core system and make reporting difficult if not impossible.

Take, for example, a large medical device manufacturer serving customers on a global scale. To empower its sales team, this company builds an opportunity management process in its CRM implementation.

In the U.S., where large sales teams focus on discrete sales processes, everything goes fine. But in international markets, sales reps need to do it differently: in addition to opportunity management, they might do lead management and post-sale implementation assistance. Invariably, the spreadsheets come out to fill process gaps.

Here, the manufacturer has failed to deliver the process over the last mile, leaving sales reps to go rogue. The result is process noncompliance – with data duplicated in spreadsheets throughout the organization and employees running off to do things their own way with no centralized collaboration, reporting, or oversight.

The way forward

Solving this problem does not mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater and scrapping the system altogether. Rather, with flexible capabilities for bringing systems to constituencies over the last mile, companies can increase user adoption, thus minimizing implementation risk and maximizing the business value of the initial investment. But how?

Role, geography, and process

The last mile involves the distribution of information to a large number of diverse and often widely separated end users or endpoints. Questions to ask include: Who are you delivering to? What’s special about their region? And what exactly do they need to do? Call it the matrix of role, geography, and process. While your global implementation will meet many of these of specifics, it is likely that there will be gaps.

Chances are, the 80/20 rule applies. Expect that the functionality for global systems will apply to 80% of cases, while 20% will be problematic. The goal with a proper focus on last-mile delivery is to enable the flexibility to meet the needs of 100% of users. Only by considering the needs of end users across the dimensions of role, geography, and process can an organization expect to maximize adoption and liberate itself from the scourge of spreadsheets.

Getting the user experience right

Here at AppBuddy, we have worked with hundreds of organizations to overcome their last-mile delivery challenges. We have found that users are often overwhelmed – either by an overabundance of data or an inability to pull data together from hard-to-reach places. To execute a simple process, users are often left clicking around multiple screens and navigating across different systems. The user experience is less than ideal.

Key to a positive user experience is the “focused workspace.” Organizations should strive for a simple beginning-to-end experience – one that cuts down on clicks and navigation by making everything accessible on one easy-to-use screen within enterprise systems. Creating such experiences requires the ability to integrate data from multiple sources and present it so that it’s navigable, actionable, secure, and compliant with best practices in data and process governance.

Not that you should reinvent the wheel each time you approach this problem. Speed of implementation takes precedence; otherwise, users waiting for relief will resort to spreadsheets. What’s needed is a last-mile data management solution that can quickly and effectively pull multiple data objects from enterprise systems into a single view. To prevent data integrity problems and cut down on security risk, it should also operate directly on live enterprise data without syncing or taking data out of the system. To fuel adoption, it should present it all in a familiar spreadsheet-like interface. Get the user experience right and adoption will follow.

Scalable processes for everyone

At SAPPHIRE NOW in June, SAP CEO Bill McDermott referred to “process” as the multiplier that produces results for companies in the digital economy. Process, in other words, is what matters most for scale – as opposed to technology. Companies that can scale and deliver critical processes to anyone who needs to use them – despite diverse end-user requirements – are companies that perform more effectively.

Mastering last-mile delivery can help ensure that your processes work for everyone as intended. An understanding of the user’s role, geography, and process purpose can help you design systems and processes that meet individual needs. And a commitment to a simplified user experience with focused views can help ensure wide user adoption. All of this helps improve productivity, increase process visibility for continuous improvement, and maximize the value of the initial investment in enterprise software.

To learn more, visit www.appbuddy.com or SAP App Center.


Marc Aubin

About Marc Aubin

Marc Aubin is CEO of AppBuddy, creators of GridBuddy and AppBuddy Cloud. For almost 20 years, Marc has served multiple roles in IT and product development including technical architect, developer, and project/product manager for companies like Amazon, Reuters, and Salesforce.com. He has extensive start-up experience including two companies that were successfully acquired (Octiv and HighBeam Research) and as an executive in a cloud data management start-up he co-founded in 2002.