How Bisnode uses integration to consolidate its systems and processes
Data analyst company Bisnode Sweden has spent the last years consolidating 17 companies into one. They are now focusing on improving their processes – using agile methods and working closely with the company management and day-to-day operations. The goal is to become a more united, agile and flexible organization. The key component in this transformation is integration.
As companies and organizations expand, merge or split up, they have to learn how to deal with constantly changing IT environments and increasing demands on how their systems and applications communicate. Having the strategy and tools to handle integration is more important than ever.
In April of last year, Jessica Gidlund assumed her role as product manager of internal systems and integrations at Bisnode. An important part of her job is to review and develop processes from a business perspective. While Jessica had plenty of experience connecting different IT systems and automatizing processes from her previous employments, she faced a whole new set of challenges at Bisnode. In this article, she shares her thoughts on streamlining and consolidating the company’s processes.
Current role: Product manager of internal systems and integrations at Bisnode. Reports directly to the CEO of Bisnode Sweden.
Past assignments: Atea, Ingram Micro and Cap Gemini.
Lives in: Enköping
You report directly to the CEO of Bisnode and play a major role in turning Bisnode into a more efficient company. What were your thoughts when you got the assignment?
– This new role is really something I have dreamt about for years. Being closely involved with the operation of the company, and working proactively instead of setting up integrations and implement system changes reactively. Many people don’t realize that integrations is a way to get smarter and more efficient when it comes to your processes. For me it is important that our systems are used the way they are intended – if the systems no longer fit us or serve our business needs, it must be possible to easily replace them.
What’s your vision?
– I want us to become as efficient and do as little manual work as possible. Anything that is done repeatedly should be automatized. If people are entering data in multiple places, we build an integration which makes the data available wherever it is needed.
Where did your journey start?
– A couple of years ago we consolidated our CRM systems. When we went on to replace our ERP system, we built and implemented a large number of integrations to accommodate the new architecture. When you are on this type of journey, you have to implement integrations that work for a while, consolidate a couple of systems, discard the integrations related to those systems and continue step by step until you reach your goal.
– The architecture is really important. If you get lost in the beginning of the process, you will be facing an uphill struggle for the rest of the time. For example, you have to decide which system owns the customer data, you can’t have several systems owning the same identity.
How do you identify which systems and processes work, and which don’t?
– In my role, I spend a lot of time studying our day-to-day activities. Sometimes I just observe how people work, sit down with them and ask follow-up questions whenever I need to. I also work closely with colleagues that are responsible for making their departments more efficient. There’s quite a few of us who want to create efficient processes!
How do you prioritize among the issues you encounter?
– We look at how much time the manual work takes, and if it can be replaced with integrations. It’s often pretty easy to calculate the amount of time and money that can be saved. We also consider the risks associated with manual work.
You want to quit doing traditional integration projects entirely. Why?
– The world moves so fast – even before you’ve defined a project it has become outdated and obsolete. It is difficult to set up a project plan and a budget when you face this reality. Instead, we’ve put together a team with enough resources to handle the most important issues continuously.
– Our IT team is made up of 12 people who work according to the same model as our product team, where I am responsible for backlog and strategy. The team uses agile work methods, and has all the competences required to take on the most important challenges without having to co-ordinate with other teams and wait for available resources.
How would you describe the core of this agile team?
– I often run into people who talk in terms of problems but I would much rather talk about solutions. I want a team made up of people who are good at what they do, who work well together, and are focused on their deliveries. I want to achieve a great team spirit!
What type of systems do you replace and integrate?
– I don’t believe in buying systems that need to be modified and adapted. After all, the supplier has built the system with a specific purpose. However I believe strongly in the user experience – too many systems are designed for developers. When evaluate a new system I look at both the processes and the usability. I am also an advocate for loosely coupled systems that can be easily replaced when they are no longer the best the market has to offer.
What do you mean by ”loosely coupled”?
– First of all, you need an integration platform that connects the systems. You use the platform to build an architecture that make the systems work independently of each other. The key to this independence is using an intermediate file format for your data, which means that if you want to replace your ERP, you only need to modify a single format mapping – you do not need to make changes for every system connected to the ERP.
What are your thoughts about integration platforms?
– Integration platforms need to be stable, and you need a relationship with the supplier which lets you affect the development of the product. As an iCore customer, I have had a very constructive relationship with their development team: I help driving the product forward, and they help me solve problems. I still haven’t encountered an integration challenge which I haven’t been able to solve with iCore.
Looking forward – how is the consolidation at Bisnode going?
– We still have a ways to go. It is the most complex company I have worked at, seeing how it is the product of so many mergers. We have our team in place, taken ownership of our customer care resources and secured support from the management. It’s going to be a long process – for example, the plan is to integrate towards all our non-standard products, and some of them operate in a mainframe environment. But I am happy to have this key role and help in the streamlining and automatization of our company. It will keep me busy for years to come.