Connecting The Dots Without Losing Your Mind: Managing an Integrated Systems Landscape During a Digital Transformation

By: Kamal Patel

Before the term “integrated landscape” picked up traction a few years ago, many projects were focused on implementing just one system or platform to meet business needs. With only one system in mind, a siloed approach worked. Functions and processes only looked at individual requirements with limited interaction with other areas.

But in the last few years, we’ve seen heavy focus in digital transformations on integration among numerous  business platforms. Biz ops aren’t—and shouldn’t be—viewed with tunnel vision. And yes, all of this interconnectedness can create a nightmare trying to get a transformation project delivered successfully.  This is where managing the integrated systems landscape effectively comes in. With integrated landscapes, constant collaboration is key to ensure systems and tasks work together seamlessly. 

The Challenges

If not managed effectively, teams and systems run at their own pace, each on their own timeline. If you don’t manage the different needs, dependencies, and timelines within the overall program lifecycle, you will run into major challenges in your production environment, and that impacts day-to-day operations.

Here are some of the challenges a poorly managed landscape of disparate systems can cause.

1. Different Timelines for Each Business Area and Technical Team

When business areas work in isolated silos, they aren’t aware of—and don’t plan for—dependencies among the diversity of functional domains and systems. This can cause hiccups, slowdowns, and roadblocks, to put it lightly.

Breaking down silos requires vigilant fine-tuning and constant engagement with every system team to ensure that ongoing operations are performing to expected requirements, while considering how new development and changes that are designed to make business processes more efficient are going to impacting each system’s existing operations, as well as the work effort for each team to make any necessary changes. To put it simply, you are herding cats, and the frequent course corrections and regression analysis are key. 

2. Limited Environments

Often, you have limited systems available to complete development, testing, user acceptance processes, etc. before you migrate changes to your production environment. This is always a pain point. Those resources are limited because they come with a set dollar value, and it’s a constant battle between budget and timelines.

It’s important to make sure systems are always available to support base business issues that arise and shift direction to meet change deliverables. And yet you have a business transformation to support, which is another compelling but competing need. If your project doesn’t have its own development box for the satellite system with which you are integrating, and you need to share space with run-state support needs, then you are essentially in a three-legged race, in which case you must partner at the hip with your satellite systems owners to make sure you don’t step on each other’s toes or, worse yet, cause each other to fall.

3. Mo’ Systems, Mo’ Problems 

The more systems you have (sometimes as many as 70 on a global enterprise digital transformation), the more potential for chaos you have. There’s often not even a single consistent format or status reporting tool that you have at your disposal to track milestones or deliverables across all of the disparate systems. As you can imagine, that makes managing deliverables consistently a tedious, if not maddening, activity for the person in charge because those deliverables need to be continuously normalized, all the while they are constantly changing and evolving. 

Agile ways of working are so fluid these days and inflections are so rapid that you have to be in constant touch with your system owners  for these critical integrations across the landscape or you will quickly go out of step and crash and burn. . 

So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance…

Now that you have an appreciation for the challenges involved in managing an integrated systems landscape during a digital transformation, let’s talk solutions.

Establish Upfront Alignment on Time Constraints, Deliverables, Risks

First, clearly document and communicate, with as many visualizations as possible, what the entirety of your system landscape looks like from an overall transformation vantage point. Different people understand information in different ways, and to maximize your success probability, have ready multiple ways to explain the changes, the dependencies, and connections among different team efforts. Layer in critical impact areas for each system and address each in your timeline. Make sure each drives to a common end goal from a project deliverable standpoint. Everyone needs to start the transformation journey marching to the beat of the same drum.

Define How You’ll Report Out Across Various Platforms

Each system that communicates in the same manner should have consistent milestones to report on. This drives consistency in tracking and reporting. Many projects fail to identify this up front.

Master Formal and Informal Communication

Have formal cadence meetings lasting 30-60 minutes (based on volume of systems) with all points of contact for each system in the landscape. These should be every two weeks or monthly in early stages. Later during critical milestones, they should be more frequent.

Keep informal connection points and constant communication flowing via email, chat, and in person. After all, what differentiates success from failure are people’s care, so maintaining healthy and trusted relationships across your landscape is paramount for your collective success. 

Establish Strong Relationships with Contacts

Strive to make your connections with your points of contact engaging, authentic, and valuable, not passive or perfunctory. There should be plenty of back-and-forth earnest communication. The best teams are those that solution together, not volley work back and forth as arms-length strangers. Work with each team to address individual risks and challenges and get buy-in, ownership, and accountability. It also helps to sometimes give rather than just take. Effectively managing elasticity of work across teams is the nuanced art that differentiates good from great. Doing all of this solidifies the relationships and helps you meet your common goal together.

Working to integrate a complex network of systems requires diligence, communication, and collaboration. Also, acknowledge that new risks and issues will arise, but with the core competencies strategy and approach in place, those risks and issues can be mitigated with well-managed integrated systems landscapes. In the end, the game of connecting the dots can be won, but you have to face it head on and leverage every trick you got.